Following a no-confidence vote in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) House of Assembly against the government lead by Andrew Fahie who was arrested in Miami by US authorities on drug and money laundering charges, his deputy Natalio Wheatley has been sworn in as the new premier of the islands with the approval of its governor John Rankin.
Wheatley, the former deputy premier, will now also hold the post of finance minister. He said his appointment was “another important and necessary step in renewing our cherished democracy and reforming our institutions”.
“It is my hope that this day will be remembered as the day we began a new era of democratic governance,” he said.
Rankin, who is Queen Elizabeth II’s representative to the islands and its ultimate executive authority, has pledged to “work together in partnership” with Wheatley to improve the administration of the islands.
This is despite a recommendation by Justice Gary Hickinbottom, the sole Commissioner of a Commission of Inquiry into alleged corruption and mismanagement by the elected indigenous Governing Administration of the BVI.
The British Judge issued a Report in which he claimed that he found evidence of corruption and maladministration being practiced by the elected governmental administration, and has recommended that the Constitution of the BVI be suspended, its elected government dissolved, and that the territory be ruled from London.
Hickinbottom said the territory’s elected government should be dissolved and its constitution suspended for two years due to systematic dishonesty, effectively returning it to direct rule from
But Wheatley has said he wants to avoid direct rule by the UK, describing it as unacceptable and warning it would undermine the progress made by generations of people in the territory since 1950, when a local legislative body was launched.
Numerous Protests have been staged on the islands against London’s retaking control, and the Caribbean Community as well as the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, have recommended to Britain that it would be taking a retrograde step in restoring direct colonial rule to the British Virgin Islands as existed in Her Majesty’s colonies during the colonial period.
The inquiry’s report was not directly linked to Fahie’s arrest, but British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said his detention demonstrated the importance of the investigation and the need for “urgent action”.
Fahie, 51, was arrested at a Miami airport along with the managing director of the territory’s Ports Authority, Oleanvine Maynard.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) says Fahie in recorded meetings with a confidential source from the Drug Enforcement Administration agreed to help smuggle cocaine through the territory in exchange for a portion of the proceeds. If convicted, he faces a minimum of nearly 20 years in prison.
Fahie’s lawyer has indicated he intends to plead not guilty to the charges when he is brought before a court later this month and called for his release on the grounds that he has diplomatic immunity in the US by virtue of being the elected leader of the BVI.
The United States says no such immunity exists because the overseas territory is not a sovereign nation.
A Federal Judge has ruled that Fahie can be released if he pays a US$500,000 bond. In addition, the judge says he could remain in Miami, at the rented home of his two college-age daughters, if he and his family surrender their travel documents and he wears an ankle bracelet monitor.