The government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is “terribly bad” and should be disbanded, says a report after the territory’s prime minister was arrested on drug charges.
An investigation, led by retired British judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom, was commissioned last year amid allegations of corruption and misuse of taxpayers’ money.
Under Mr Hickinbottom’s recommendations, BVI, a British Overseas Territory of more than 40 islands in the Caribbean, would have its constitution suspended for up to two years and would effectively be returned to direct rule by London.
Release of the long-delayed report came early after BVI Prime Minister Andrew Fahie was arrested and charged with drug trafficking and money laundering following an undercover operation.
He and Oleanvine Maynard, Managing Director of the BVI Port Authority, were arrested on charges of conspiracy to import more than 5kg of cocaine into the US, as well as money laundering, the The New Herald informed.
They met undercover Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents posing as cocaine smugglers to verify a suspected shipment of $700,000 (£560,000) in cash on a plane they believed was going to the British Virgin Islands, authorities told the newspaper.
The couple appeared via video link in a Florida court on Friday, and both will remain in custody until their bond hearing on Wednesday.
A third person, Kadeem Maynard, son of BVI Port Authority Managing Director Ms. Maynard, was also arrested in connection with the DEA undercover case, but not in Miami, according to the report. Herald.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the arrests showed the need for “urgent action”.
Mrs Truss had instructed Overseas Territories Minister Amanda Milling to travel to the British Virgin Islands immediately to speak with Governor John Rankin and key stakeholders, before the government announced “a path clear to follow”.
In a statement, Ms Truss said the review was launched in January 2021 to address “significant concerns about the deteriorating state of governance in the British Virgin Islands, as well as the islands’ potential vulnerability to serious organized crime.” .
In a televised statement, BVI Governor John Rankin, who is recommended to take over the government of the territory, promised that his main concern would be the best interests of the people of the BVI.
He promised to “guarantee a transparent, honest and open government.”
Caretaker Prime Minister Natalio Wheatley said governance issues could be addressed without suspending the constitution as Mr Hickinbottom’s report recommends.
He told BBC Radio’s The World Tonight that he did not think the people of BVI wanted the constitution suspended because they supported democracy.
“Every country in the world has challenges with governance, including the UK,” Wheatley said.
The British Virgin Islands, a popular tax haven, operates as a parliamentary democracy, with the Prime Minister acting as head of the elected government alongside the Governor, who is appointed by the UK government.