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Solomon Islands leader's questionable wealth under scrutiny


Manasseh Sogavare

By Pacific Island Times News Staff


Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare owns real estate properties worth several millions of dollars, which are out of proportion to the relatively modest paycheck he receives as head of the state, according to a recent report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.


The OCCRP, a global consortium of investigative teams of journalists, said the 69-year-old premier makes an annual salary of 428,560 Solomon Islands dollars (around US$50,000), thus his disproportionately excessive wealth is raising questions among his constituents.


“That relatively low paycheck, however, hasn’t stopped Sogavare and his wife, Emmy, from securing large loans and massively increasing their real estate wealth over the past several years,” the OCCRP said.


The OCCRP’s investigation in collaboration with In-Depth Solomons has found that the Sogavares have built at least eight new houses on land they already owned in and around Honiara, the nation's capital.





“One of the houses, a large, multi-story home in the hillside suburb of Tasahe, serves as the couple’s current residence. Other holdings include what are, by local standards, high-end rental properties in the neighborhoods of Lungga and Henderson, located near the Honiara airport,” the report said.


Based on local property appraisers’ assessments and mortgage reviews, the construction cost was estimated at between SBD14 million and SBD26 million ($1.7 million and $3.2 million).


“The value of the properties appears out of proportion with Sogavare’s known earnings. The size and scale of the houses themselves also stand in stark contrast to the living conditions of most Honiara residents, who pay sky-high prices to live in often ramshackle and overcrowded housing.” the OCCRP said.

 

Sogavare, a four-time prime minister of Solomon Islands, is seeking reelection on April 17.


As the Solomon Islands voters gear up for next week’s election, anti-corruption advocates said Sogavare’s accumulated wealth must be put under the microscope.


“He needs to explain to the people: Where did he get all this money from?” Ruth Liloqula, who heads the Solomon Islands chapter of Transparency International, told the OCCRP.


Sogavare did not respond to questions from OCCRP and In-Depth Solomons.

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The OCCRP said the Sogavares’ Tasahe home is still not widely known to the public.


The Sogavares have also built homes at their Henderson property, which contained just one small house when they purchased the land in 2015.


According to the OCCRP, satellite images and drone photos show the plot being developed in stages, with two large houses erected sometime between early 2017 and early 2019.


By April 2020, a third house had appeared, and a fourth smaller structure was added sometime in 2023. All four houses appear to be rental properties.


“Those of us living around here were so surprised to see three buildings completed in just less than a year, something a Solomon Islander normally couldn’t do,” Rose Kairi told the OCCRP.


From her home nearby, she watched the Lungga construction work and saw trucks driven by “what appeared to be Chinese workers drop construction materials at the site. Those carrying out the construction were mostly locals, she said.”


The OCCRP recalled that the couple's history of questionable real estate transactions dates back to Sogavare’s second term as prime minister in 2007.


That year, the purchase of the Lungga property raised ethical questions.


“The sale was made with the help of a SBD2.5 million (about $350,000) mortgage from Australia’s ANZ bank — supported by a letter from the Embassy of Taiwan, in which the country’s government guaranteed that it would rent the property," the OCCRP said.


Lawmakers slammed Sogavare for “exploiting his relationship with a foreign government for personal gain,” but the prime minister countered that there was no law in the Solomon Islands prohibiting the nation’s leader from obtaining a bank loan.


“Taiwan came and said it is going to have a long-term tenancy agreement with us,” he added. “Taiwan wanted to rent those two houses. What is wrong with that?”


Sogavare was a staunch ally of Taiwan until the Solomon Islands switched to China in 2019.


Read OCCRP's full story here.



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