‘Corrupt to core’ Caribbean prime minister gets bail in drug case

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FILE – This photo released by the Department of Information and Public Relations of the Government of the British Virgin Islands on April 22, 2022, shows the Prime Minister of the British Virgin Island, Andrew Alturo Fahie. Fahie, who is charged with drug smuggling after a US government stab in South Florida, was released on a $500,000 bond Wednesday, May 4. In a surprising decision, Judge Alicia Otazo-Ryes of the Miami federal court rejected prosecutors’ argument that Fahie would flee the US if she was released pending trial on cocaine charges. (Department of Information and Public Relations of the Government of the British Virgin Islands via AP, File)

AP

The Prime Minister of the British Virgin Islands, described by US prosecutors as “corrupt to the bone,” was given a $500,000 bail that would allow him to be released from prison pending trial on US narcotics charges.

In a surprise decision, Federal Court Judge Alicia Otazo-Ryes rejected prosecutors’ argument that Andrew Fahie could flee the US and potentially engage in criminal activity if released.

Instead, she said he could stay in Miami, locked up in the rented apartment of his two school-age daughters, if he and his family surrender their passports and he wears an ankle bracelet monitor in addition to paying the substantial business bail.

US Assistant Attorney General Frederic Shadley said the government would appeal the decision, meaning it is unclear when and if Fahie will be released.

Fahie, 51, was arrested last week at a Miami airport during a sting by the US Drug Enforcement Administration after showing what appeared to be $700,000 in cash, but which were actually counterfeit bills, to be flown on a private jet back to the United States. British Virgin Islands on behalf of Fahie. Also arrested was his port director, Oleanvine Maynard.

Fahie stood handcuffed and shook his head in contention as Shadley described in court how the politician bragged in taped conversations with a DEA informant that he had 15-20 years of criminal activity to his name.

“Oh, no no no, not at all my first rodeo, NOT MY FIRST RODEO AT ALL,” Fahie can be heard laughing in the recording, according to a government filing ahead of Wednesday’s hearing.

A DEA informant, posing as a member of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, met Fahie, Maynard and Maynard’s son on several occasions to discuss a deal that would send thousands of pounds of cocaine from Colombia via the British Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico. , Miami and New York, according to the indictment.

In exchange for bribes and 10% — or about $7.8 million — for every 3,000 kilogram (6,600 lb) shipment of cocaine sold in Miami, Fahie and his co-defendants allegedly agreed to provide safe passage for the drug shipments and a set up a network of shell companies to launder the proceeds.

“So, this is the full seven?” Fahie is said to have asked the DEA informant who accompanied him to the Miami airport where he was arrested.

According to the indictment, Fahie told the DEA informant that he had close ties to a known drug smuggler on the Caribbean island and to an unidentified Senegal political associate he wanted to approach about firearms smuggling. In the course of those talks, he asked the DEA informant to pay more than $100,000 to settle a debt owed to the Senegalese man, the indictment said.

“He has shown in this case that he is corrupt to the core and believes he is above the law,” Shadley said. “He was a government official who swore to enforce those laws, but he broke them over and over.”

Fahie’s attorney, Theresa Van Vliet, disputed that characterization, saying her client would plead innocent when arraigned later this month.

She claimed that because the British Virgin Islands is a British Overseas Territory, US courts have no jurisdiction over Fahie.

To substantiate the claim, she entered as evidence a “diplomatic note” signed by an unidentified official from the Prime Minister’s Office in Road Town, asking for his “immediate and unconditional release”. The request has been forwarded to the International Affairs Office of the Ministry of Justice.

Fahie’s former allies, however, appear to have rejected the letter.

In a brief announcement Wednesday, Acting Prime Minister Natalio Wheatley said the letter was erroneously sent by a “rogue” official and did not reflect the government’s position.

Van Vliet also presented copies of correspondence showing that the Prime Minister’s Office had requested Miami International Airport for protocol assistance from Fahie and his wife as they traveled to the US on April 24 on “official business.”

According to the correspondence, Fahie would travel to Barbados prior to arriving in Miami to join Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the US House Financial Services Committee, and other unidentified members of Congress attend a banking conference.

While Judge Otazo-Reyes sidestepped the immunity issue, she seemed convinced by Van Vliet’s argument that Fahie’s continued detention would make it impossible for him to perform his official duties at a critical time for the islands as officials announced the suspension of the area’s constitution. an effort to clean up rampant corruption.

“These are the most serious tasks he could and should be doing,” said Van Vliet, former head of the narcotics division at the Department of Justice in Washington.

Even before his arrest, Fahie was under pressure from a special United Kingdom-led commission of inquiry investigating corruption in the string of islands east of Puerto Rico, home to about 35,000 people.

Governor John Rankin, Queen Elizabeth II’s representative in the islands and her ultimate executive authority, said the arrests prompted him to – earlier than originally intended – release the commission’s report, which concluded that officials, including the prime minister’s allies, fraudulently spent millions of dollars on projects for no public benefit.

In an effort to clean up the government, the committee recommended suspending the islands’ constitution for two years and returning the territory to their own rule by officials in London.

In a speech over the weekend, Wheatley said he wants to avoid direct rule by Britain but supports swift cooperation with Rankin and opposition lawmakers in the islands to allay concerns over good governance.

“Direct rule is not an acceptable option for us,” Wheatley said. He said it would “undermine all the progress our people have made over the generations” since 1950, when a local legislative body was created.

If convicted, Fahie faces a minimum of nearly 20 years in prison.

Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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