The premier of the British Virgin Islands could be released on a 500,000 dollar (£400,000) bond as he awaits trial on charges tied to a US government drugs sting, a federal judge in Miami said.
In a surprise decision, Judge Alicia Otazo-Reyes rejected prosecutors’ argument that Andrew Fahie would flee the US if released.
Instead, she said 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 monitor and pays the large bond.
Prosecutors said they would appeal against the decision, meaning it is unclear when and if Fahie would be released.
The 51-year-old was arrested last week during a US Drug Enforcement Administration sting after accepting what he was told was 700,000 dollars (£550,000) in cash from undercover DEA agents and informants who posed as Mexican drug traffickers.
Fahie and his ports director, Oleanvine Maynard, met the group on a private jet in the Miami area, according to the criminal complaint.
The complaint says Maynard referred to Fahie as a “little crook sometimes” who would not hesitate to profit from a plan cooked up with the help of self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives to move mass quantities of cocaine and drug proceeds through the Caribbean island.
Fahie stood handcuffed shaking his head in disagreement as Assistant US Attorney Frederic Shadley described how the politician had bragged in recorded conversations with a DEA informant that this “wasn’t my first rodeo” with criminals.
Posing as a member of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, a DEA informant met on several occasions with Fahie, Maynard and Maynard’s son to discuss a deal that would send thousands of kilograms of cocaine from Colombia through the British Virgin Islands and on to Puerto Rico, Miami and New York, according to the complaint.
In exchange for bribes and 10% — or about 7.8 million dollars — for each 3,000kg load of cocaine sold in Miami, Fahie and his co-defendants allegedly agreed to provide safe passage for the drug shipments and create a network of shell companies to launder the proceeds.
“So, this is the full seven?” Fahie allegedly asked the DEA informant who accompanied him to the Miami airport where he was arrested.
He’s shown in this case that he’s corrupt to the core and believes he’s above the lawUS assistant attorney Frederick Shadley
According to the criminal complaint, Fahie told the DEA informant that he had decades of criminal activity under his belt.
He also said he was close to a known drug smuggler on the Caribbean island as well as an individual from Senegal whom he agreed to approach about smuggling firearms.
In the course of those conversations, he asked the DEA informant to pay upward of 100,000 dollars to settle a debt with the Senegalese man, the complaint says.
“He’s shown in this case that he’s corrupt to the core and believes he’s above the law,” Mr Shadley said. “He was a public servant sworn to uphold those laws but he broke them over and over again.”
Fahie’s attorney Theresa Van Vliet disputed that characterisation and said her client would plead not guilty when he is arraigned later this month.
She asserted that because the British Virgin Islands are a British overseas territory, US courts have no jurisdiction over Fahie.
To back up the assertion, she filed what she called a “diplomatic note” signed by an unidentified official from the premier’s office in Road Town requesting his “immediate and unconditional release”. The request was sent to the Justice Department’s office of international affairs.
Fahie’s former allies appear to have disavowed the letter, however.
In a brief announcement on Wednesday, acting premier Natalio Wheatley said the letter was sent erroneously by a “rogue” official, and “does not reflect the position of the premier’s office or the government of the (British) Virgin Islands”.
Ms Van Vliet also presented copies of correspondence showing that the premier’s office had asked Miami International Airport to provide protocolar assistance to Fahie and his wife when they travelled to the US on April 24 for “official business”.
While Judge Otazo-Reyes sidestepped the immunity issue, she seemed convinced by Ms Van Vliet’s argument that Fahie’s continued detention would make it impossible for him to carry out his official duties at a critical juncture for the islands, as officials weigh suspending the territory’s constitution in an attempt to clean up rampant corruption.
“These are the most serious of duties that he could and should be performing,” said Ms Van Vliet, a former narcotics prosecutor in Miami.