Federal prosecutors have until Thursday to appeal a federal judge’s decision allowing British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Fahie, who they called “corrupt to the core,” free on $500,000 bail. The judge’s ruling Wednesday required Fahie, his wife, and two daughters to surrender their passports and stay at the daughters’ Miami address. If released, Fahie would be required to wear electronic monitoring equipment.
Prosecutors had pleaded with the court to keep Fahie locked up: “Through this investigation, it has become clear that Fahie is corrupt to the core,” prosecutors said. “Fahie believes he is above the law.” They said he was a clear danger to the community and an obvious flight risk.
The ruling to potentially release Fahie came almost simultaneously with acting BVI Premier Natalio Wheatley announcing that Fahie’s court filing asserting immunity as head of state was created by a “rogue public officer.”
Wheatley said he and others were in meetings at the time the document was created and sent to the Florida court where Fahie was awaiting trial on cocaine smuggling and money laundering charges.
The unauthorized document, which calls for Fahie to be released because he is the head of state and thus immune from prosecution, bears a dated stamp from the Premier’s Office of the International Affairs Secretariat but no other official’s name or signature. Wheatley, who has asked Fahie to resign, said the letter does not reflect his position nor the government of the British Virgin Islands.
“It appears the preparation and sending out of the correspondence were the actions of a rogue public officer who acted without authorization or the knowledge of myself as the acting premier,” Wheatley said. “The content of this letter regarding diplomatic immunity for Honorable Fahie does not reflect the position of the premier’s office or the government of the Virgin Islands.”
Wheatley said an investigation into the document is underway. Social media commenters suggest Fahie be stripped of the “honorable” title BVI elected officials enjoy.
In a blunt rebuke to Fahie’s immunity assertion, U.S. prosecutors said Wednesday the suspected cocaine trafficker was not immune to prosecution as head of state because the British overseas territory is not a sovereign state, as far as the executive branch of the U.S. government is concerned.
The revelation seems particularly stinging given the Buckingham Palace-appointed BVI governor’s recommendation that local governance be suspended for at least two years to root out suspected corruption and mismanagement.
Legal experts told The Source Tuesday that, while many heads of state enjoy immunity from prosecution while abroad, the courtesy is by no means automatic. It requires the person’s home country and host country to recognize them as head of state, and the host country to extend the offer of immunity.
Prosecutors in Florida – who have held Fahie and co-defendant BVI Port Authority Director Oleanvine Pickering Maynard in federal detention since their April 28 arrest – said Fahie’s position as premier was little more than a title in the criminal proceeding.
“The Executive Branch of the United States Government does not recognize the British Virgin Islands as a sovereign state or that Fahie is entitled to any immunity from this prosecution,” wrote U.S. Attorney Juan Antonio Gonzalez.
The British Virgin Islands’ official website says as much: “Ultimate executive authority in British Virgin Islands is vested in The Queen, and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor of the British Virgin Islands. The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and most Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.”
While UK officials are deciding whether to temporarily take full control of the BVI, some residents have taken to the streets in protest, claiming such a move smacked of colonialism. Others reluctantly acknowledged the need for greater oversight.
Prosecutors in Florida said Fahie has bragged of 15 to 20 years of criminal activity, all while holding public office. Fahie, 51, was elected in 1999 to the Legislative Council, now called the House of Assembly. He’s facing a likely sentence of more than 20 years if convicted.
In a Wednesday motion to continue Fahie’s and Maynard’s pretrial detention, prosecutors cited what they called the “danger they pose to the community, and their serious risk of flight.” The motion alleged Fahie was willing to facilitate gun running in addition to cocaine smuggling and money laundering.
Prosecutors’ assessment of Fahie was unflinching: “Through the course of this conspiracy, it has become clear that Fahie is engaged in corruption and criminal activity at the highest levels. He has accepted bribes, he has agreed to pay bribes, he has conspired to import thousands of kilograms of a dangerous controlled substance, he has admitted to working with known drug dealers in the BVI, and he has expressed a willingness to inquire about the acquisition of firearms from a Senegalese contact – on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel. Fahie added that his “reliable” criminal associate in the BVI was involved in moving both money and guns (apparently with the knowledge and acquiescence of Fahie). According to Fahie himself, he has been involved in this type of criminal activity for 15-20 years. His release would result in a danger to the community by allowing for continued drug trafficking from the BVI to the United States, and the ongoing protection of criminal activity provided by Fahie. Not only would Fahie himself serve as a danger to the community, but his freedom in society would allow for the unfettered criminal activity of Fahie’s associates to continue.”
Fahie and Maynard allegedly conspired to import 27,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States and launder millions of dollars through the BVI, prosecutors said, and would inquire with a trusted friend about smuggling guns.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration reportedly infiltrated a group of self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives in October 2021 who allegedly had inroads with senior members of the BVI government, according to the criminal complaint against Fahie, Maynard, and Maynard’s son, Kadeem Maynard. In March and April, the trio allegedly agreed to help ship cocaine to Puerto Rico and then Miami via Tortola by providing businesses traffickers could use to hide their operations, licenses and safe passage for the drugs, and assurances police would not interfere. They also allegedly accepted bribes and offered to pay off others who may impede the operation, secure access to airports, arrange payments through bank accounts and cash deliveries via plane and boat, and facilitate fake seizures of lesser quality cocaine to draw attention away from their actual product.
The first shipment of 3,000 kilograms was to pass thought the BVI in July, according to the court filings.
When arrested in Miami, Fahie and Maynard thought they were being paid $700,000 right away and would later reap roughly $7.8 million per shipment, prosecutors said. They also were allegedly going to collect another 2 percent of the total shipped to pay local bribes.
Had he not been arrested, Fahie planned to fly to St. Martin from Miami on Tuesday to meet with a trusted friend who had done him some political favors, prosecutors allege. Fahie had asked for $83,000 to pay a debt to the man who lived in Senegal and could possibly have helped supply guns, according to the complaint.
In a meeting recorded the next day, Fahie allegedly said that the man from Senegal “did a few things for me, politically,” and that he “knows a lot about elections, so he’ll come around elections.”
Later that same day Fahie allegedly said a woman helped him arrange companies to hide money and solve political problems that are “not above board.” He also allegedly said he’d bribe a government official who may impede the plans.
When asked about the cash deliveries, the criminal complaint alleges Fahie had regular criminal associates:
“Fahie explained: ‘I’m gonna get everything rolling, so we can get that money … the first payment by boat … once you bring that down I’ll tell you exactly where, I have a guy, reliable, like my brother, but he does a lot of business on the ‘other side.’”
When asked about what he meant by “the other said,” Fahie allegedly responded: “Well, he does, he ships, he moves anything that he’s moving now, whether it’s cocaine, or whether it’s guns, he does everything … he’s reliable.”
The complaint said Fahie provided that person’s nickname. Prosecutors said that person is a well-known drug trafficker in the BVI who has prior convictions for firearms possession and possessing with intent to distribute narcotics.
Fahie then allegedly said he was accustomed to receiving large amount of cash and would remove the bank wrappers to avoid the currency being traced.
The court filing reads: “Fahie responded, ‘Oh no no no, not my first rodeo at all, NOT, MY FIRST RODEO, AT ALL.’ Fahie then laughed, and went on to describe his prior criminal activity. He told a story about saving a man $3 million dollars, and how that man agreed to pay Fahie $1 million dollars for Fahie’s efforts. However, that individual also arranged for the courier providing the $1 million to be robbed before the cash was provided to Fahie. Fahie further explained that, over the last 15-20 years, he had lost out on about 7.5 million dollars he was owed where the ‘deal’ went through (the drug deal), but he was stiffed and not paid by his criminal partner.”
Fahie and Maynard were arrested after viewing what they allegedly thought was their $700,000 payment aboard a private jet. The cash was fake, prosecutors said.
In late December 2021, Fahie announced intended anticorruption legislation, called the Integrity in Public Life Act, to clarify standards of conduct for BVI elected officials, strengthen accountability and adherence to public policy, and establish an Integrity Commission “to promote good governance, enhance ethical conduct of public officers, and strengthen the prevention and detection of potential corrupt acts by persons in public life.”
Fahie promised the commission’s first report would be delivered in the first quarter of 2022.
“I wish to say at this time that as we approach the New Year, your Government continues to further strengthen our good governance framework through the passage of many significant pieces of legislation in the House of Assembly,” Fahie said.
U.S. prosecutors say at the time the Integrity Commission was to be delivering their report Fahie was plotting to move cocaine, illegally gained cash, and potentially guns through the British Virgin Islands.