The agreement to take the two alleged murderers reportedly played into the deal negotiated by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and former US president Barack Obama, under which the US agreed to resettle up to 1250 refugees from Manus Island and Nauru.
Australia also agreed to take people whom the Obama Administration was “very keen on getting out of the United States”, according to Mr Turnbull, as well as a limited number of Central American refugees from a US-backed centre in Costa Rica.
The Australian government has always rejected claims this amounted to a “people swap”.
In what Politico described as a “secret arrangement”, Australia also reportedly agreed to take in the two Rwandan men, named as Leonidas Bimenyimana and Gregoire Nyaminani.
US prosectors originally demanded the death penalty over the 1999 attack, in which three men – including the aforementioned two – were accused of hacking to death two Americans and six other tourists in Africa.
The men were jailed in Virginia but the prosecution reportedly fell apart in 2006 when a US judge ruled their confessions were obtained “through torture in Rwandan detention centres”. The men reportedly fought extradition to Rwanda but also had no right to stay in the US.
In November last year the men dropped a legal challenge and agreed never to seek re-entry into the US. According to the Politico report, they were then sent to Australia.
The Department of Home Affairs told Politico it did not comment on individual cases. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have also sought comment from the department, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Mr Turnbull, who is in transit.
Politico reported that Australia refused to take the third alleged murderer, Francois Karake, possibly because he was involved in a physical altercation with a US jail guard in 2015.
The report said it was unclear whether accepting the Rwandans was explicitly part of a deal with the US. It may have been “a reciprocal gesture that could nudge the swap deal along”.
The refugee deal was the subject of an intense phone call between Mr Turnbull and Donald Trump in January 2017 after Mr Trump ascended to the US presidency. During the call, Mr Turnbull explained the terms of the deal, including Australia’s promise to resettle people the US did not want.
“We are taking people from the previous administration that they were very keen on getting out of the United States. We will take more. We will take anyone that you want us to take,” Mr Turnbull told Mr Trump at the time.
In the past six months, the Coalition government has made border protection a key part of its case against the election of a Labor government, specifically targeting Labor over its support for a law that allowed for medical evacuations of refugees from Manus Island and Nauru to Australia.
The government warned the new laws risked accused rapists and paedophiles gaining entry to Australia – despite the fact the laws had safeguards that allowed the minister to reject an applicant convicted of a serious crime.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was campaigning in Sydney on Thursday before heading to the National Press Club in Canberra, and is yet to respond to the Politico report.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.