British Virgin Islands leader pushes back UK corruption investigation – POLITICO

LONDON – The Prime Minister of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), Andrew Fahie, gets his retaliation first – brushing aside allegations of deep-rooted corruption in the Caribbean territory even before an official investigation was completed.

The success of However, Fahie’s PR campaign will ultimately depend on the findings of the investigation, which is expected in January. Investigation began earlier this year after former BVI Governor Augustus Jaspert publicized charges ranging from mismanagement and banal corruption to organized crime and cocaine trafficking with the participation of senior officials.

The BVI is a British Overseas Territory. Its managing director is a governor appointed by Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain on the advice of the British government. The Prime Minister, Fahie, is elected by the territory’s House of Assembly and chairs a small cabinet.

In an interview with the large Mayfair offices of BVI House, the de facto territory embassy in London, Fahie called the gangsterism allegations “irresponsible”.

Fahie, who is also finance minister, admitted that far-reaching reforms are needed to improve governance in BVIs. But he complained that Jaspert had gone public to the media without first using his own powers to dig into the allegations.

In addition, said Fahie, the ex-governor launched the investigation without considering how resource-intensive it would be for the country of about 30,000 people, which is trying to recover from the pandemic as well as the season. of the devastating hurricanes of 2017.

“This presents a significant challenge for public officials,” Fahie said, saying the scope of the investigation has broadened to cover virtually all government decisions of the past decade.

“Any country that needs to be assessed with such broad terms of reference would show an area where it needs to improve administratively,” he said.

“The investigation consumed the entire public service,” he added. “And so far he has shown no evidence of corruption at BVI.”

This comment barely tells the whole story, not least because no final conclusion of any kind is expected until January. But the procedural judge has previously said the evidence he saw suggests “governance in the BVI is not all it should be.”

Nor do Fahie’s assurances apply to groups like the NGO Tax Justice Network, which ranks BVI as the world’s leading corporate tax haven. Local media and the Auditor General’s office, for their part, have long reported corruption issues in areas such as public procurement.

Plain and simple organized crime, however, is the thorniest issue at the heart of the UK taxpayer-funded investigation, which began its final hearings last week. To date, no specific evidence or indication of BVI authorities’ involvement in such activities has emerged during public evidence sessions – prompting Fahie to contact the media, accusing London of doing too much.

Some citizens and officials of the BVI fear that the commission of inquiry is proposing a colonial-style takeover, imposing direct rule on London and stripping the territory of its autonomy. The UK has taken a similar decision with the Turks and Caicos in 2009 after another investigation found “a high probability of systematic corruption or serious dishonesty”, including suspicions of drug trafficking.

Fahie would not give a direct answer on whether the BVI should declare independence. But he refused to rule out this possibility, provided the country is “ready” and willing to restore “order” before taking this step.

Serious allegations

The image painted by Jaspert – who is now the UK Home Office’s chief delivery officer – suggests corruption and criminal activity at the highest levels.

He gave more details about his charges in grim testimony last month, describing a drug trafficking ring with the participation of government figures. Along with long-standing and well-known concerns of maladministration and petty corruption, these are “allegations of links to organized crime and to people involved in cocaine trafficking as well, allegedly including some of the most senior officials” who made it public, he explained.

Without naming names, he said that “credible public officials, leaders of some of our institutions, as well as credible members of the public” had come to him with specific allegations.

Since then, however, Jaspert has kept a low profile. A UK government spokesperson said it would be “inappropriate” for Jaspert to comment on the ongoing investigation. Jaspert also declined to speak directly with POLITICO for this story.

Another key player who declined to comment on the allegations was Mark Collins, the territory’s police commissioner, citing the ongoing investigation. Collins reports directly to the governor appointed by London rather than to the elected government of the BVI.

Drug denial

The BVI, which is close to the Americas, has long struggled to shake suspicions that it was becoming a hub for the cocaine trade from South America. Before Jaspert went public, the BVI suffered a reputational blow in 2020 when 2.35 tonnes of cocaine – worth $ 250 million – was discovered, leading to the arrest of a police officer.

On the home front, successive BVI governments have also come under fire for failing to provide transparent decision-making on public spending and contracts. Independent media have suggested this has been going on for years with the full knowledge and tacit approval of the UK government, as it hand-selects BVI governors.

This line of criticism also emerges from investigations by the Office of the Auditor General, one of the few existing controls over the government. For years he has published scathing reports of questionable or downright illegal government decisions – with only a muffled backlash from London.

Fahie, for her part, remains adamant that no conclusion of official collusion with drug trafficking can be drawn from the ongoing investigation. And he defends his own patch, the financial services industry, calling it “one of the best regulated in the world.”

He also relishes his image as a former high school vice-principal and practicing Methodist who still plays the organ during Sunday service in churches on the islands he rules.

Fahie admits that there are “gaps” and potential “areas for improvement” in the administration of BVI. These include the frequent award of public contracts without open tendering; opaque public service recruitment policies; and the generally poor state of record keeping and accountability for official decisions, he admits.

But Fahie points to reforms implemented under his leadership – such as a code of conduct for elected officials, as well as transparency and freedom of information measures – as proof that he is determined to improve the country’s position.

“The transformation of the public service will take us a few years,” he said.

Easygoing demeanor aside, he doesn’t make any effort about Jaspert. The ex-governor “must apologize to the people of the Virgin Islands, and not just throw mud at the wall and hope something sticks,” demanded Fahie.

He congratulated the new BVI Governor John Rankin, who reports to Overseas Territories Minister Amanda Milling and Foreign Minister Liz Truss, whose Foreign Office is supporting the corruption investigation .

“The UK government has put in place a governor who is responsible in his speech, experienced and respectful in the way he carries out his duties,” he said, winking at Rankin’s previous post in as Governor of Bermuda. “It shows a step in the right direction.”

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