British Virgin Islands’ Premier Andrew Fahie was arrested Thursday on charges of conspiring to import cocaine and money laundering after a successful sting operation led by U.S. authorities.
Fahie, the elected head of government in the British overseas territory, was detained in Miami after agreeing to give agents posing as drug smugglers access to British Virgin Islands’ ports in exchange for $700,000 (€663,000).
Responding to the arrest, U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was “appalled by these serious allegations.”
The overseas territory, a collection of around 60 islands home to about 30,000 people, is largely self-governed. The U.K. still oversees its defense and foreign policy — as well as some domestic policy, including internal security — through the governor appointed by the British government. The premier, elected by the territory’s House of Assembly, oversees most other policy decisions and presides over a small Cabinet.
Court papers showed that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials posing as members of Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa Cartel — formerly run by imprisoned drug lord Joaquín Guzmán, known as El Chapo — agreed with Fahie to store Colombian cocaine hidden inside 5-kilogram paint buckets on British Virgin Island territory for a short time before sending it on to be sold in the U.S.
The overseas territory’s top port official Oleanvine Maynard and her son, Kadeem Maynard, were also arrested in the sting operation. The investigation was initiated after a report by a confidential informant in October last year, according to the DEA complaint, media reported.
The overseas territory’s governor, John Rankin, convened an emergency Cabinet meeting on the territory late Thursday, and said Deputy Premier Natalio Wheatley will remain acting premier. Rankin argued he would now “move ahead urgently” with the publication of the corruption probe.
“I realise this will be shocking news for people in the Territory,” he said in a statement. “I would call for calm at this time.”
The British Virgin Islands government was already under investigation by the British government for organized crime, corruption, misuse of public funds and cronyism. In 2021, the U.K. set up a commission of inquiry into the allegations of misgovernance.
At the time, Fahie denied government involvement in such activities, telling POLITICO they were “irresponsible.” “The inquiry has consumed the entire public service,” he added. “And so far, it has shown no proof of corruption in the BVI.”
The commission also created controversy after former U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was found to be undertaking private legal work advising Fahie in the inquiry alongside his parliamentary duties.
The inquiry came to an end earlier this month, though its results are not yet public.