British Virgin Islands saga worsens

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—following premier’s arrest in US on drug charges, corruption inquiry finds reason to suspend Government

MIAMI, United States (AP) — The premier of the British Virgin Islands appeared in federal court in Miami on Friday after his arrest on cocaine-smuggling charges, while Britain’s governor of the Caribbean territory announced that a corruption inquiry found ample reason to suspend the islands’ elected Government.

The arrest of Premier Andrew Alturo Fahie, 51, in Florida prompted the UK-appointed governor of the British Virgin Islands to release a damning report Friday from a probe into separate, wide-ranging allegations of corruption.

The dramatic developments place the immediate future of the British overseas territory into doubt. The string of islands inhabited by 35,000 people east of Puerto Rico is currently under a 2007 constitution giving it limited self-governance under a governor who is the ultimate executive authority as the representative of Queen Elizabeth II.

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Fahie was arrested Thursday at Miami-Opa-locka Executive Airport along with his territory’s director of ports, Oleanvine Maynard, in a US Drug Enforcement Agency sting. Maynard’s son, Kadeem Maynard, faces the same charges in the alleged scheme.

According to a criminal complaint, Fahie and Maynard had been at the airport to meet Mexican drug traffickers who, in reality, were undercover DEA agents.

A DEA confidential source had previously met with Maynard and her son after being introduced by a group of self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives, according to the complaint. They began arranging plans to ship cocaine through the port at Tortola, and they both talked about involving Fahie.

“You see, with my premier, he’s a little crook sometimes,” Oleanvine Maynard told the DEA source, according to the complaint.

The day of the arrest, a meeting was called to see a shipment of US$700,000 in cash the British territory officials expected to receive to help smuggle cocaine from Colombia to Miami and New York, the complaint said. The money was fake.

The DEA administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement these arrests show the “DEA’s resolve to hold corrupt members of Government responsible for using their positions of power to provide a safe haven for drug traffickers and money launderers in exchange for their own financial and political gain”.

At a Friday hearing conducted via Zoom, Assistant US Attorney Frederic “Fritz” Shadley asked US Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman to keep both Fahie and Maynard detained prior to their trial. Shown in a tan prison uniform, Fahie did not speak other than to state his name and date of birth and to agree for the hearing to be conducted online. A bond hearing was set for next Wednesday.

Fahie’s attorney Theresa Van Vliet did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In a news conference in the British Virgin Islands capital of Road Town, Governor John Rankin said the arrests prompted him to release — earlier than originally intended — the report of a commission of inquiry launched in January 2021 over allegations of widespread Government fraud.

Rankin said the inquiry’s commissioner recommended suspending the territory’s constitution and locally elected parliamentary Government for at least two years, but that a decision on that would be made in consultation with British officials. The commission had concluded that “unless the most urgent and drastic steps are taken, the current situation with elected officials deliberately ignoring the tenets of good governance will go on indefinitely”, Rankin told the televised news conference.

The deputy premier, Natalio Wheatley, who was named acting premier this week while Fahie was said to be in Miami for a cruise conference, said he does not think it is necessary to suspend the constitution. He said he supports a cooperation framework between the governor and Government “to swiftly implement recommendations under a very tight timetable, without resorting to direct rule”.

Meanwhile, Britain’s top diplomat called the arrest and drug charges “extremely concerning” and instructed the minister for overseas territories to travel immediately to the islands. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there were already significant concerns about the deteriorating state of governance and how that left the British territory vulnerable to organised crime. Truss said the report shows substantial legislative and constitutional change is required.

At Friday’s news conference, Governor Rankin said the inquiry concluded that millions of dollars were spent on projects that were abandoned or found to be of no public benefit. A series of contracts worth almost US$1 million awarded to a former adviser of the premier were not completed, Rankin said. “Some of them were, on their face, false,” the governor said. The commissioner also recommended independent vetting of all customs officers and a police investigation into possible corruption in customs. There could be possible criminal prosecution in several cases, the commissioner said.

“He concludes that it’s highly likely serious dishonesty may have taken place across a broad range of Government, and that there’s information that a substantial number of elected officials may be involved,” Rankin said.



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