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British Virgin Islands avoids direct U.K. rule amid scrutiny

British Virgin Islands avoids direct U.K. rule amid scrutiny

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The British Virgin Islands announced Wednesday that it has avoided direct rule by the United Kingdom for now after its premier was recently arrested on cocaine charges and an unrelated report found widespread corruption in the overseas territory.

Gov. John Rankin said the agreement to retain local governance was reached with U.K. officials who traveled to the Caribbean territory last month to talk about the report's findings and the arrest of Premier Andrew Fahie in Florida in late April.

The corruption inquiry that began in January 2021 and whose results were released a day after Fahie was arrested recommended that officials suspend the British territory’s constitution and locally elected parliamentary government for at least two years, but Rankin said that will not happen as long as the local government meets several conditions.

He said locally elected officials will implement dozens of other recommendations in the report, adding that government agencies will be required to provide monthly updates and that he will offer quarterly updates to U.K. officials for the next two years. If that fails to happen, the local Parliament could be suspended and direct U.K. rule implemented, among other things, he said.

“Many more difficult decisions will be required to achieve the deep and systematic changes necessary to improve governance in the BVI, and much hard work will be required ahead,” Rankin said. The inquiry "identified significant failure of governments, including evidence of corruption, abuse of office and serious impropriety.”

Premier Natalio Wheatley said the government is still trying to determine how much the reforms will cost and that the territory’s budget will be adjusted accordingly.

Some in the British Virgin Islands ave demanded that officials move up the date of the general elections, which are scheduled to be held next year. Wheatley said elections will likely be held in May and that there are no plans to change that date.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Miami last month ordered that Fahie, the former premier, be released on $500,000 corporate surety bond.

A criminal complaint stated that Fahie and the former ports director for the British Virgin Islands had been at a Miami-area airport to meet purported Mexican drug traffickers who were actually undercover agents for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

They showed him what appeared to be $700,000 in cash — actually fake bills — that British territory officials expected to receive to help smuggle cocaine from Colombia to Miami and New York through a port in Tortola, according to the complaint.

A day after Fahie was arrested, local officials released the report on unrelated allegations of corruption in the British territory.

At the time, Rankin said the report found that millions of dollars were spent on projects that were abandoned or had no public benefit, and that various contracts worth almost $1 million were awarded to a former Fahie adviser but never completed.

“If anybody is found guilty of wrongdoing, they will be held accountable,” Rankin said Wednesday.