MIAMI, United States (AP) — The premier of the British Virgin Islands on Monday demanded his immediate release from US custody, arguing he is immune from prosecution on cocaine-smuggling charges because he is the elected, constitutional head of government of the British overseas territory.
An attorney for Andrew Fahie made the request in a filing with Miami federal court.
Fahie, 51, was arrested last week during a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting as he was preparing to board a private jet at Miami Opa-locka Executive Airport.
According to a criminal complaint, Fahie and Oleanvine Maynard, his ports director, had been at the airport to meet who they thought were Mexican drug traffickers but who, in reality, were undercover DEA agents. In the criminal complaint, Maynard refers to Fahie as a “little crook sometimes” who wouldn’t hesitate to profit from a plan cooked up with the help of self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives to move mass quantities of cocaine and drug proceeds through the Caribbean island.
The shock arrest roiled the British Virgin Islands, where Fahie was already facing allegations of widespread corruption, and seemed to bolster calls by officials from London to suspend the constitution for two years to clean up Government and return to home rule.
Fahie’s attorney declined to comment and in her two-page filing she didn’t provide details about her client’s immunity claim. Fahie, who also serves as the finance minister, was said to have travelled to Miami to attend a conference for the cruise industry, and ahead of his departure had appointed a deputy to act as premier in his absence.
But any battle to assert immunity is likely to face numerous obstacles.
“Immunity doesn’t protect you if you’re on your own private boondoggle,” said Dick Gregorie, a former federal prosecutor in Miami who in the 1980s indicted the prime minister of Turks & Caicos, another British colony, on drug charges and then Panamanian strongman General Manuel Noriega.
Still, prosecutions of foreign officials are rare, and going after the Caribbean island’s top elected official would certainly have been greenlighted at the highest levels of the US Justice Department and State Department, given the potential impact.
For example, federal prosecutors in New York waited for Honduras’s President Juan Orlando Hernandez to step down this year before indicting him on allegations of drug trafficking that first came to light in the trial of his brother.
“This isn’t done willy-nilly. Prosecutors are clearly very confident in the evidence,” said Gregorie.
The string of islands of 35,000 people east of Puerto Rico is currently under a 2007 constitution giving it limited self-governance.
Governor John Rankin, who is Queen Elizabeth II’s representative to the islands and its ultimate executive authority, said the arrests prompted him to release — earlier than originally intended — a report by a commission of inquiry launched in January 2021 to investigate allegations of widespread Government fraud.
Governor Rankin said the inquiry concluded that millions of dollars were spent on projects, some of them linked to allies of the premier, that were abandoned or found to be of no public benefit.
“Some of them were, on their face, false,” the governor said.
The commission had concluded that “unless the most urgent and drastic steps are taken, the current situation with elected officials deliberately ignoring the tenets of good governance will go on indefinitely”, Rankin told the televised news conference.
On Monday, BVI citizens took to the streets outside Rankin’s official residence as they protested the recommendations of the commission of inquiry report that the BVI Government cease to exist in its current format for at least two years.
The protest coincided with planned meetings involving UK Overseas Territories Minister Amanda Milling and local stakeholders regarding the report.
“We as Virgin Islanders come to say to the United Kingdom that ‘You should not suspend our constitution in an attempt to establish direct rule over us,’ ” Bishop John Cline said, adding that he wanted to speak directly with Milling and the governor general.
“We cannot sit back and accept this atrocity, we cannot sit by and let this happen. We say to the UK, Amanda Milling, ‘You cannot want for us what you do not want for yourself’…We do not want our constitution suspended.”
“We live in a democracy. We do not want the constitution suspended for six months, much less two years — we do not want it suspended at all. We want the right to elect a government, we want the respect of the UK, and we want the respect of the UK in helping us determine our destiny.”
Cline said that while the citizens acknowledge that there are some faults, he warned nonetheless “if you push us, we will push back”.
“We want the UK to come alongside us and create political systems… for good governance. We want to be in a respectful partnership with the United Kingdom. We want the UK to change the international narrative that they have set around the world that the people here are corrupt.
“There is corruption in the UK, there is corruption in America, Russia, in every country… we want to say, ‘Do not settle for anything less,’ ” he said as the protesters shouted “No direct rule, no direct rule!”
Cline called on the UK Government to re-think its position on the recommendations, saying “We say to the UK, ‘If you want to do something, come and speak with us.’
“We come here today because we are serious and we are determined you will not suspend our constitution… we are not going back to 1949,” Cline told the protesters, adding “The fight is about our homes, our legacy. The fight is about our political progress. The fight is about our future.”