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30 Apr, 2022 00:19

UK seeks direct control of ex-colony

Arrest of the British Virgin Islands' leader on US drug charges has prompted London to act
UK seeks direct control of ex-colony

Shortly before the premier of the British Virgin Islands appeared before a US judge on charges of cocaine smuggling and money laundering, a commission of inquiry in London hurriedly published a report urging the UK to take direct control of the Caribbean territory, citing systemic corruption.

BVI Premier Andrew Alturo Fahie made a Zoom appearance on Friday before a US federal judge. He was arrested in Miami, Florida on Thursday, along with BVI Ports Authority director Oleanvine Pickering Maynard. They face drug trafficking and money laundering charges in a scheme the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) claims involved Mexican cartels and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Just hours before Fahie was due in court, the commission of inquiry led by Judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom published its final report, recommending that London should dissolve the islands’ elected government, suspend their constitution, and impose direct rule.

Successive governments had “deliberately sought to avoid good governance by not putting processes in place and where such processes are in place by passing them or ignoring them as and when they wish – which is regrettably often,” Hickinbottom said in the report.

Hickinbottom said his recommendations came “with a heavy heart,” but “unless the most urgent and drastic steps are taken, the current situation with the elected government deliberately ignoring the tenets of good governance will go on indefinitely.” He urged Governor General John Rankin to take direct control of the islands’ domestic policy and budgets, set up an advisory body made up of locals, and conduct a year-long constitutional review.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the report showed “clearly that substantial legislative and constitutional change is required to restore the standards of governance that the people of the BVI are entitled to,” but did not officially announce direct rule.

Hickinbottom’s commission was established in 2021, amid claims of corruption and wasteful government spending – as well as rumors that the island leadership was engaging in drug trafficking. According to The Guardian, the British government was aware of the US undercover investigation, and decided to “rush out” the 1,000-page Hickinbottom report after Fahie was arrested on Thursday.

Fahie and Maynard were arrested at the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport, according to an affidavit listing the charges against them. Maynard’s son Kadeem Stephan Maynard has also been arrested, though it was not made clear when and where.

According to the affidavit, a DEA informant started meeting with “a group of self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives” on the BVI island of Tortola back in October 2021, which approached Fahie’s security staff and said it “owned” Director Maynard.

The informant allegedly met with Oleanvine and Kadeem Maynard in March, and with both of them and Fahie on April 7, 2022, proposing to pay them a percentage of cocaine sales that would pass through BVI ports on the way to the US territory of Puerto Rico, and from there to the US mainland.

The informant testified he offered Fahie 12% of the expected sale price for the drugs, which worked out to $7.8 million, as well as to fund his re-election campaign. Fahie allegedly asked for $500,000 in advance and another $83,000 he needed to pay back a debt to someone in Senegal.

According to the affidavit, the plan was to set up a test run for 3,000kg of cocaine in exchange for $700,000 in cash, which was left on a private jet at the Miami-Opa Locka airport. Fahie and Oleanvine Maynard were arrested when they showed up to claim the cash.

Named by Christopher Columbus, the Virgin Islands are divided between the UK, the US and the US territory of Puerto Rico. BVI residents have been British citizens since 2002. They are officially designated as one of the British overseas territories, called crown colonies prior to 1983.

The last time London imposed direct rule on an overseas territory was in 2009, when the Turks and Caicos Islands government was accused of corruption. Full local rule was restored in 2012. The Turks and Caicos had also been under direct rule in 1986-88, after their chief minister was accused of complicity in drug trafficking.