British Virgin Islands premier gets new $1M bond in Miami drug case, but isn’t free yet

·3 min read
BVI Government

A Miami federal judge Monday rejected a prosecutor’s bid to detain British Virgin Islands Premier Andrew Alturo Fahie, who was arrested on drug-related charges in late April at a local airport.

But before Fahie can be released from a federal lock-up on a new $1 million bond, he must prove to the judge that the money for his bail comes from a legitimate source.

U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams ruled that Fahie can post a $500,000 personal surety bond co-signed by him, his daughters and a friend in addition to a $500,000 corporate surety bond, the latter of which had been imposed by a magistrate judge earlier this month. The magistrate’s previous bond ruling had been put on hold until Williams’ review.

Williams also said that Fahie, 51, must wear a GPS device so he can be monitored and that his defense attorney can only visit him at his daughters’ home in southwest Miami-Dade County. His daughters and wife also have to surrender their passports.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederic Shadley tried to keep Fahie locked up until trial, saying the premier was a flight risk and a danger to the community. Shadley noted that Fahie potentially faces 30 years to life in prison for his alleged offenses, and that he was “corrupt to the core” — pointing out that he told a federal undercover informant who approached him about smuggling thousands of kilos of cocaine through the British territory that this was “not my first rodeo at all.”

However, Fahie’s defense attorney, Theresa Van Vliet, argued that the prosecution’s case against the British premier was built on a “sting” operation, an unknown U.S. government informant and exaggerated allegations. She said he deserved his freedom before trial because he needed to prepare his defense and had close ties to the Miami community.

The BVI premier and two others, including the territory’s port director, Oleanvine Maynard, who also is in custody in Miami, are accused of plotting to accept cash bribes from a DEA informant posing as a Mexican drug smuggler in exchange for providing protection for a series of 3,000-kilo cocaine shipments through the British Virgin Islands to the United States.

Both Fahie and Maynard were arrested at Miami-Opa-locka Executive Airport on April 30 after they were lured there by federal undercover operatives to check out what they believed to be a cash bribe of $700,000 that was purportedly being transported by plane to the British Virgin Islands.

Both defendants have pleaded not guilty.

As part of his defense strategy, Fahie claims that as the head of the British territory he cannot be prosecuted for any crime in the United States because he has immunity. His lawyer argues that as BVI’s “duly elected and sitting head of government,” Fahie is immune from arrest and detention in the United States and that federal prosecutors should dismiss the charges so he can be released immediately.

But soon after his arrest in Miami, Fahie’s political party stripped him of his power as the head of the British territory’s parliament.

The immunity issue is uncommon in federal criminal cases because foreign leaders and diplomats are rarely accused of crimes in the United States. The fundamental question under international and U.S. law is whether Fahie is recognized by the Biden administration as a “head of state” or as a “locally elected official” of a British territory. Fahie was elected as premier in February 2019.

Earlier this month, federal prosecutors said in a court filing that the U.S. State Department did not recognize the British Virgin Islands as a “sovereign state,” so Fahie would not be entitled to immunity. At a court hearing, Shadley, the prosecutor, reinforced that point, saying “this defendant is not entitled to immunity.”

Fahie’s immunity claim must still be addressed by the magistrate and district judges overseeing his case.