BVI rocked by Premier’s arrest, calls for direct British rule

Photo by Aleks Marinkovic

13th May 2022

The British Virgin Islands (BVI) is reeling from the fallout of Premier Andrew Fahie’s arrest and calls for British direct rule. Fahie was arrested at a Miami airport along with the Managing Director of the territory’s Ports Authority, Oleanvine Maynard, and her son Kadeem Maynard on charges of money laundering and conspiring to import cocaine into the US.

The arrests came after a six-month sting operation conducted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). According to court documents filed by the agency, the trio agreed to help smuggle cocaine potentially worth up to US$1bn through the islands’ ports in exchange for a 12%

They allegedly met several times with a DEA informant posing as a Mexican cartel member. Fahie and Oleanvine Maynard were arrested in Miami where they were to collect an advance payment on the drug deal.
After his arrest, Fahie’s attorney filed a motion for his release claiming that he had diplomatic immunity
as the BVI’s political head.

However, the US Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Florida said that the US would not recognise his
claim since the US Government does not recognise the BVI as a sovereign state. The court has since
ruled that Fahie can be released on a US$0.5mn bond pending trial on condition that he surrender his
travel documents and be subject to electronic monitoring.

As news of his arrest broke, Deputy Premier Natalio Wheatley took over as acting Premier and later
announced that he had replaced Fahie as Chair of the Virgin Islands Party. Wheatley has publicly
denounced the alleged actions of Premier Fahie while reminding the public that he was entitled to due
process before the law.

“The arrest yesterday of the Premier of the British Virgin Islands on charges related to drug trafficking
and money laundering is extremely concerning and underlines the need for urgent action,” said UK
Foreign Secretary Liz Trus in a statement.
“Surely following the arrest of its Premier, the [UK Foreign Office] should now take direct control of the
British Virgin Islands pending a further investigation into corruption and money laundering?” tweeted
Chris Bryant, an opposition Labour member of the British parliament.

Fahie’s arrest has apparently led Governor John Rankin to release the report of the Commission of
Inquiry (COI) a month earlier than expected. In it, there are reports of widespread abuses, including
millions of dollars of government funds that were spent annually without proper process.

The COI, which was led by UK Judge Gary Hickinbottom, recommended that the territory should have
its constitution suspended, its elected government dissolved and effectively be ruled from London.

Following the release of the report, BVI residents protested the COI’s recommendation for UK direct
rule outside Government House and demanded a public meeting with the UK Overseas Territories
Minister, Amanda Milling who has since made an emergency visit to the territory.

On her return from the three-day trip, Milling said that a decision on whether to impose direct rule on
the BVI was still to be made but stressed that its government must address endemic corruption.

“We recognise that given the practical realities of the current Premier’s situation, it is incumbent that
steps be taken to have a new Premier substantively appointed to this critical constitutional post,” said
Wheatley in a televised address, adding that he was ready to assume the role.

As efforts continue to secure the resignation of Premier Fahie, the current BVI government led by
Deputy Premier Natalio Wheatley has rejected calls for direct rule and has proposed an alternative
interim national unity government including members from all parties committed to addressing the
issues raised in the report.

Two members of the existing government would reportedly not be offered ministerial posts, and the
new government would remain in place for 10 to 12 months with fresh elections likely to take place in
early 2023. Speaker of the BVI House of Assembly, Julian Willock as reported resigned on the request of
Wheatley. “He advised me that the majority of members agreed that I should resign,” said Willock.

Meanwhile, the 11-member Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), of which the BVI is an
associate member, has said that “abolition of Parliament with direct rule from London represents a
retrograde step in the evolution of the democratic process that is inconsistent with the United Nations
Proclamation of Human Rights to be free of colonial rule”.

The bloc called on the British Government to work with and support the elected Parliament in the
process of addressing the issues raised in the COI report.

This is a lead article from Caribbean Insight, The Caribbean Council’s flagship fortnightly publication. From The Bahamas to French Guiana, each edition consists of country-by-country analysis of the leading news stories of consequence, distilling business and political developments across the Caribbean into a single must-read publication. Please follow the links on the right-hand side of this page to subscribe, or access a free trial.