The leader of the British Virgin Islands has been arrested in an undercover sting operation after accepting cash to help a major drugs shipment organised with the aid of a group from Hezbollah, according to US court documents.
Premier Andrew Fahie, 51, and his chief port official were arrested in Miami for allegedly accepting $700,000 from an informant posing as a member of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel.
The informant had asked for help from a group of “self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives” with a safe berth in the BVI for a cocaine shipment from Colombia to the United States, according to court documents.
The Hezbollah group said they would provide introductions to senior BVI officials, including the head of security for Mr Fahie and the head of the port authority, Oleanvine Maynard, who the Hezbollah group said they “owned”.
In a series of subsequent meetings between the informant and Mr Fahie, the premier complained that he was not paid enough by the British authorities for leading the government since 2019.
Mr Fahie – known as Head Coach in secret communications between the plotters – tried to assure himself that the informant was not working for law enforcement.
“It took me 20 years to get here and I don’t want to leave in 20 minutes,” he is said to have told the informant for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Mr Fahie and Ms Maynard were arrested on Thursday after they travelled to Miami and were shown the cash in designer shopping bags on a plane. The money was in exchange for allowing the drug shipment through the Caribbean territory, according to the DEA.
The UK government was shocked by the news that Mr Fahie will face charges of drug trafficking and money laundering.
"I am appalled by these serious allegations," British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement late on Thursday.
She said the arrests underlined the need to release a recently concluded investigation into alleged corruption and abuse of office under the Fahie government.
The investigation began in January 2021 and was overseen by British Virgin Islands governor John Rankin. Ms Truss said Mr Rankin would set out the next steps on Friday, "including urgent publication of the inquiry's report".
Mr Rankin, an appointee of Queen Elizabeth II on advice from the UK government, urged calm in the islands after the "shocking news" of Mr Fahie's detention.
The self-governing Caribbean archipelago is home to about 35,000 people and is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, which supervises its defence and foreign policy.
It is one of the world's leading offshore tax havens. Both the local government and London have been accused by anti-corruption campaigners of turning a blind eye to illicit flows of foreign money.
The officials' arrests "should send a clear message", DEA administrator Anne Milgram said.
"Anyone involved with bringing dangerous drugs into the United States will be held accountable, no matter their position."
Court documents filed on Thursday showed that Mr Fahie, Ms Maynard and Ms Maynard's son are all charged with "conspiracy to import five kilograms or more of cocaine" and "conspiracy to launder money".
Deputy Premier Natalio "Sowande" Wheatley will remain acting premier indefinitely.