In mid-October, as Sir Gary Hickinbottom’s commission of inquiry into the government of the British Virgin Islands, led by the premier, Andrew Fahie, was taking laborious public oral evidence for a 44th day, a US Drug Enforcement Administration informant was, according to court papers, meeting some self-proclaimed Lebanese Hezbollah operatives on the BVI island of Tortola to discuss how to shift cocaine through the territory en route to Puerto Rico, Miami and New York.
Hickinbottom was taking mind-numbingly dull evidence on how to apply for BVI citizenship, and whether the process was open to manipulation.
The DEA source acting as a Mexican drug-runner, meanwhile, according to the court papers, was setting up a series of meetings that was to conclude with the arrest on Thursday of Fahie onboard a private jet in Miami where he was allegedly being shown designer shopping bags containing $700,000 as payment for the intended storing of 3,000kg of cocaine for four days. The payment was to keep the stash from the inquiring eyes of the port authorities and police, the papers filed in Florida claim.
Fahie is expected to appear in court in Miami on Friday in relation to the charges.
Ironically, the day before, Fahie, unaware that all his meetings were being recorded and videoed, had confided to the person he thought was the Mexican drug-runner – who was in fact a DEA informant – that he “believed in witches and magic and how to read lies in people”, according to the papers.
The contrast between the stately evidence-gathering of the commission of inquiry and the methods of the US police agencies could not be more stark: Yes Minister meets Miami Vice.
Indeed, before his arrest on Thursday, Fahie had thought he would survive politically, an interview with the Guardian in November suggested. He believed the as yet unpublished Hickinbottom inquiry might reveal maladministration, inefficiency and corners cut, but overall the initial lurid allegations of corruption made at the commission’s launch by Augustus Jaspert, the previous BVI governor, in January 2021 were, he thought, going to be unproven.
Fahie and his fellow ministers – represented at the inquiry by the Conservative MP and former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox – had used the court hearings to mount a counter case alleging the colonial UK government had been improperly interfering with the work of the elected politicians. Cox, whose work for the BVI resulted in allegations that he was moonlighting, had been assiduous in arguing that the London government over-reached its mandate.
Hickinbottom submitted his report, known to contain 40 recommendations, to John Rankin, the current governor, before Easter, but he took his time to digest its contents before a deferred publication, probably in June. There is no indication whether or not he knew of the DEA sting operation.
Certainly, it is clear from the affidavit submitted to the Miami court on Thursday by a special agent, Shad Aschelman, that the DEA operation had been under way since October. But it was not until 20 March that the BVI port authority managing director, Oleanvine Maynard, and her son Kadeem allegedly met what the affidavit describes as a DEA confidential source (CS).
The CS told Maynard he was a member of the Sinaloa drug cartel and he needed a BVI port to store an initial 3,000 tonnes cocaine for 24 to 48 hours until “a window was open” to take the shipment on to Puerto Rico, the papers say.
Maynard said they could get the licences, and added they would set up “shell companies” into which the payments to her could be made. She allegedly demanded an upfront payment. Her son, according to DEA audio, allegedly said he had been drug-running for 20 years.
According to the papers, the CS asked if the premier would want to be involved. Referring to the premier as “head coach”, Maynard allegedly said: “I know the type of person he is. If he sees an opportunity, he will take it. He is a little crook sometimes. He is not always straight.” The CS allegedly gave Maynard $20,000 as a goodwill gesture.
The next day, 22 March, less than a fortnight before Hickinbottom submitted his report on 5 April, Kadeem allegedly texted the CS on WhatsApp to say: “The head coach wants to play with the team this season.”
The CS had explained he could get the drugs to the BVI for about $4,000 a kg, but it would sell for $26,000 or $28,000 in Miami and for up to $38,000 in New York, the papers say.
On 23 March, Kadeem allegedly explained that the “head coach” was in, but he needed $500,000 up front to square another government official and to sort out the airports.
On 7 April Fahie and the CS allegedly met on Tortola, where the premier, the DEA says, complained he was not paid much by the British government. The CS proposed Fahie be given a 12% cut of the sales in return for allowing the cocaine to pass through the BVI ports. Fahie, according to the affidavit, pulled out a calculator and worked out the street value of the cocaine in Miami was $78m, and if he got 10% he would receive $7.8m
At one point during the meeting the confidential informant allegedly gave Fahie $20,000, saying: “This is a good faith gift to seal that we have an agreement.”
Fahie allegedly seemed suspicious of the DEA informant, asking him if he was an undercover operative. The CS said he was not and reassured Fahie: “Well, first of all, you’re not touching anything” – a reference to the planned shipments of cocaine. Fahie allegedly replied: “I will touch one thing, the money.”
He allegedly said Britain had been trying to get him out of office for years, adding: “I have plenty of people and I don’t sell them out to the British with their plans. Their plans are to catch people, they want to capture people – but me, I see what they are doing and protect people.”
It was agreed that on 27 April $700,000 would be ready on a private jet at Opa Locka airport in Miami for Maynard to take back to the BVI, the court papers claim.
In Miami the CS allegedly went through the plans for the payment one more time with Fahie, explaining $1m was coming down from New York. It would be divided into sums of $700,000 and $300,000 for CS operatives in Mexico.
Fahie was then allegedly taken to the plane to see the money in the designer bags that was due to be flown to the BVI. It was there on the plane that he was arrested and he claimed: “Why I am being arrested – I do not have any drugs or money?”