By ADRIANA GOMEZ LICON and DÁNICA COTO – The Associated Press
MIAMI (AP) — The prime minister of the British Virgin Islands appeared in federal court in Miami on Friday following his arrest on charges of cocaine trafficking, while the British governor of the Caribbean territory announced that a corruption investigation had found good reasons to suspend the elected representatives of the islands. government.
The arrest of Prime Minister Andrew Alturo Fahie, 51, in Florida prompted the UK-appointed governor of the British Virgin Islands to release a damning report on Friday of an investigation into high-profile corruption allegations.
The dramatic developments cast doubt on the immediate future of the British Overseas Territory. The string of islands inhabited by 35,000 people to the east of Puerto Rico is currently governed by a 2007 constitution granting it limited autonomy under the direction of a governor who is the ultimate executive authority as representative of the Queen Elizabeth II.
Fahie was arrested Thursday at a Miami-area airport along with his territory’s Ports Director, Oleanvine Maynard, in a US Drug Enforcement Agency sting. Maynard’s son, Kadeem Maynard, faces the same changes in the alleged scheme. He was arrested in Saint-Thomas.
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According to a criminal complaint, Fahie and Maynard had traveled to the airport to meet with Mexican drug traffickers, who were actually undercover DEA agents.
A confidential DEA source had previously met with Maynard and his son after they were introduced by a group of self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives, according to the complaint. They began arranging plans to ship cocaine through the port of Tortola, and they both talked about involving Fahie.
“You see with my prime minister, he’s a petty crook sometimes,” Oleanvine Maynard told the DEA source, according to the complaint.
On the day of the arrest, a meeting was called to see a shipment of $700,000 in cash that British Territory officials had been expecting to help smuggle cocaine from Colombia to Miami and New York, according to the complaint. The money was fake.
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement that the arrests show the DEA’s “determination to hold corrupt members of government accountable for using their positions of power to provide a safe haven for drug traffickers.” and money launderers for their own financial and political gain. ”
In a hearing held Friday via Zoom, Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederic “Fritz” Shadley asked U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman to keep Fahie and Maynard detained ahead of trial.
Shown in a tan prison uniform, Fahie did not speak other than to state his name and date of birth and agree to the hearing taking place online. A bond hearing has been set for next Wednesday.
Fahie’s attorney, Theresa Van Vliet, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
At a press conference in Road Town, the capital of the British Virgin Islands, Governor John Rankin said the arrests prompted him to release – earlier than originally planned – the report of a commission of investigation launched in January 2021 into allegations of widespread government fraud.
Rankin said the commissioner of the inquiry had recommended suspending the territory’s constitution and locally elected parliamentary government for at least two years, but a decision on that would be made in consultation with British officials.
The commission had concluded that “unless the most urgent and drastic measures are taken, the current situation with elected officials willfully ignoring the advocates of good governance will last indefinitely,” Rankin said at the press conference. televised.
Deputy Prime Minister Natalio Wheatley, who was named acting premier this week when Fahie was supposed to be in Miami for a cruise conference, said he doesn’t think it’s necessary to suspend the constitution .
He said he supports a cooperative framework between the governor and the government “to implement recommendations quickly within a very tight timeframe without resorting to direct authority.”
Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Minister called the arrest and drug charges “extremely worrying” and ordered the Overseas Territories Minister to travel to the islands immediately.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there were already significant concerns about the deteriorating state of governance and how this left the UK homeland vulnerable to organized crime. Truss said the report shows that substantial legislative and constitutional changes are needed.
At Friday’s press conference, Governor Rankin said the investigation found millions of dollars were spent on projects that were abandoned or deemed not to be in the public interest. A series of contracts worth nearly $1 million awarded to a former adviser to the prime minister have not been completed, Rankin said.
“Some of them were, on their face, false,” the governor said.
The commissioner also recommended an independent vetting of all customs officers and a police investigation into possible customs corruption. There could be possible criminal charges in several cases, the commissioner said.
“He concludes that it is highly likely that serious dishonesty has taken place across a wide range of governments, and that there is information that a significant number of elected officials may be involved,” Rankin said.
AP writer Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico
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