The political leader of a British overseas territory in the Caribbean has been arrested in a U.S. sting operation in Florida on charges of cocaine smuggling and money laundering.
Andrew Fahie, the premier and head of government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), was detained on Thursday in Miami by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials posing as cocaine traffickers from Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, according to court papers.
It is alleged Fahie agreed a $700,000 (£560,000) payment to allow traffickers to use BVI ports without fear of arrest.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was “appalled” by the allegations and John Rankin, BVI’s governor said in a statement: “I realise this will be shocking news for people in the territory. And I would call for calm at this time.”
Court papers allege Fahie conspired to import at least 5kg of cocaine and commit money laundering between October last year and this April. An informant told the DEA that alongside the cocaine smuggling, Fahie discussed setting up small busts to make it appear that the BVI was successfully tackling drug smuggling.
According to documents seen by the BBC, Fahie told the informant the UK government had been trying to remove him from office on suspicion of corruption. "I have plenty of people, and I don't sell them out to the British with their plans... they always want to capture people, but me I see what they are doing and I protect the people,” he is alleged to have told the informant.
In 2020 a senior police officer in the BVI was caught with $200 million of cocaine hidden in a new house he was building. In January last year, on the recommendation of outgoing governor Gus Jaspert, the UK government set up a commission of inquiry, led by former Lord Justice, Sir Gary Hickinbottom, into corruption on the islands.
The inquiry, due to report in the next few days, is unconnected to Fahie’s arrest. It has heard of evidence of widespread corruption under Fahie, including drug running, lucrative contracts handed to allies and dodgy land deals.
Jaspert told the inquiry serious concerns included “intimidation of public officers, decisions being directed outside of processes, and allegations of links to organised criminality and to those involved in the cocaine trafficking trade, including allegedly amongst those of the highest holders of office”.
At the time, Fahie denied the allegations and said there should instead be an inquiry into Britain’s history of slavery, including reparations. In March, Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders expressed “deep concern” at the inquiry, saying BVI should deal with its own affairs.
The Caribbean has been exposed to persistent narco-corruption due to the fact the region and its islands are important waypoints on cocaine trade routes from Colombia onwards to the U.S. and Europe. Politicians and security forces in countries including Venezuela, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic have been caught with their hands in the cocaine till.
“That government officials in the Caribbean are involved in facilitating the cocaine trade should not come as a great surprise,” said Jason Eligh, senior expert at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. “Its geographic proximity to the cocaine producing nations of Latin America and the primary cocaine consumer markets in the U.S. and Europe creates an obvious environment of increased risk for exploitation by cocaine distributors.
“Where there is drug money there is corruption, and the complicity of corrupted government officials and institutions is a fundamental feature sustaining the international drug trade.”