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British Virgin Islands: UK should take back rule

The overseas territory would effectively be returned to direct rule from London under the recommendations.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the arrest of BVI’s premier in the US showed the need for “urgent action”.

The acting premier said governance problems could be addressed without suspending the constitution.

The report, led by British judge Sir Gary Hickinbottom, described the state of governance in the BVI as “appallingly bad”.

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The inquiry had been commissioned in 2021 amid claims about corruption and misuse of taxpayers’ money but is not directly connected to the arrest of the BVI Premier Andrew Fahie.

Elected public officials shunned the basic principles of good governance, it says, giving rise to an environment in which dishonesty can flourish.

In his conclusions he called for a two-year suspension of the constitution, cessation of the elected ministerial government and the direct rule of the UK appointed governor.

Ms Truss said she had instructed the minister for overseas territories, Amanda Milling, to travel to the territory immediately to speak to the governor and key stakeholders before the government would announce “a clear path forward”.

She said the inquiry by the governor of the territory showed “clearly that substantial legislative and constitutional change is required to restore the standards of governance”.

In a statement, she said the report had been launched in January 2021 to address “significant concerns about the deteriorating state of governance in the British Virgin Islands, as well as the potential vulnerability of the islands to serious organised crime”.

In a televised statement BVI governor John Rankin, who it is recommended should take over the rule of the territory, pledged that his overriding concern would be the best interests of the people of the BVI – “ensuring transparent, honest and open governance”.

The BVI is a British overseas territory made up of more than 40 islands, located in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto Rico.

It operates as a parliamentary democracy, with the premier acting as the head of the elected government alongside the governor, John Rankin, who is appointed by the UK government.

Leaks of documents known as the “Panama Papers” and “Paradise Papers” revealed the islands to be a popular tax haven.

Mr Fahie was detained in Miami on Thursday on suspicion of drug smuggling and money laundering.

In his absence the acting premier, Natalio Wheatley, said that the territory could address governance problems without suspending its constitution despite the recommendation of the report, according to Reuters.

The trio have been charged with conspiracy to import more than 5kg (11lb) of cocaine into the US and conspiring to commit money laundering, authorities said.

In a criminal complaint filed in a US federal court, reviewed by the BBC, the DEA said the investigation was launched in October based on work carried out by a confidential informant.

 

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