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AML arrest of BVI premier shrouds territory in uncertainty

Following the arrest of the UK territories' premier, Governor John Rankin of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) has released a damning corruption report.

According to Rankin, the investigation found that millions of dollars were spent on projects that were abandoned or found to be of no public benefit, some of which were linked to allies of the premier.

"Some of them were, on their face, false," the governor said.

Rankin told a televised news conference that the commission had concluded that "unless the most urgent and drastic steps are taken, the current situation with elected officials deliberately ignoring the tenants of good governance will go on indefinitely."

In January 2021, a commission of inquiry was established to look into allegations of widespread government fraud.

Rankin is the Queen's representative and ultimate executive authority in the islands, which are well-known as a hub for shell companies. The 35,000-person string of islands east of Puerto Rico is currently governed by a 2007 constitution that grants it limited autonomy.

Natalio Wheatley, the acting Premier of the British Virgin Islands, has since rejected the UK's "unacceptable" reimposition of direct rule.

The report found "appalling" governance failures in the BVI, as well as a "high likelihood" of serious corruption in the country.

"The evidence is such that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for any impartial person to conclude anything other than that there is information that such dishonesty may have taken place in the BVI in recent years," Rt Hon Sir Gary Hickinbottom said.

"There is not only information that serious dishonesty in relation to officials may have taken place here in recent years, but it is highly likely to have taken place," said Sir Hickinbottom, who compiled the report.

He said there was a "overwhelming picture" of "good governance principles being ignored and worse," and that it would be "frankly surprising" if there was no such corruption.

As a result, Sir Hickinbottom has recommended, with a "heavy heart," the imposition of direct rule by a UK-appointed Governor and a two-year partial suspension of the Constitution.

The acting Premier, according to the Financial Times, has slammed the plan, saying that enacting it would "undermine all the progress that our people have made over generations."

"We have the strong belief that the people of the Virgin Islands are capable of working collaboratively with the United Kingdom to implement agreed recommendations of the report" Premier Wheatley said in a Facebook post. "We are preparing proposals towards this end."

Meanwhile, Andrew Fahie, the Premier of the British Virgin Islands, has demanded his immediate release from US custody, claiming that as the elected head of government of the British overseas territory, he is immune from prosecution on cocaine-smuggling charges.

Andrew Fahie's lawyer made the request in a federal court filing in Miami on Monday.

Fahie, 51, was arrested last week while preparing to board a private jet in Miami during a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting.

According to a criminal complaint, Fahie and his ports director, Oleanvine Maynard, were at the airport to meet what they thought were Mexican drug traffickers but were actually undercover DEA agents.

Maynard describes Fahie as a "little crook sometimes" who would not hesitate to profit from a scheme devised with the help of self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives to transport large amounts of cocaine and drug proceeds through the Caribbean island.

The surprise arrest has roiled the British Virgin Islands, where Fahie was already facing widespread corruption allegations, and is likely to result in a return to direct rule by London officials.

Any battle to establish immunity is likely to encounter numerous challenges.



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