In Focus

Departing British Virgin Islands governor declares war on corruption

MEPs back call to addd territory to list of blacklisted tax havens as UK-led probe kicks off

The outgoing governor of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) has fired a warning shot at the country’s government by publicly denouncing a “plague” of corruption among the ruling elite.

In a video on Facebook, Gus Jaspert accuses the government of the British overseas territory of interfering in the criminal justice system and seeking to silence anyone who raised concerns about the misuse of funds, including £30m intended to help struggling families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jaspert also claims the authorities have deliberately stalled legal reforms and blocked local inquiries into corruption allegations relating to scandals including “£5m spent on a non-existent airline and nearly £1m on building a short wall around a school”, The Guardian reports.

“The shuffling of diplomats around the UK’s Caribbean territories rarely makes much of a splash”, says the paper. But Jaspert has captured global attention with his “emotional” video, in which he tells BVI citizens: “Your voices have been heard. We have received the message loud and clear – the people of BVI want better.”

The British diplomat is departing after serving as BVI governor since August 2017, but has appointed senior British judge Gary Hickinbottom to investigate allegations of “corruption by the ruling elite amid a culture of intimidation in one of the few remnants of the empire”, says The Times.  

Conservative MP Geoffrey Cox, a former attorney-general, will represent the islands’ government at the independent commission of inquiry.

BVI Premier Andrew Fahie, who was elected on a pledge to clean up politics, has responded to the impending inquiry launch with a threat to push for independence. “This is important for our journey to self-determination,” Fahie said in a statement released by his office early last week.

But his government is facing a further setback after European lawmakers voted on Thursday in favour of a resolution for UK overseas territories and crown dependencies, including the BVI, to be added to an EU tax havens blacklist.

One of 14 self-governing British overseas territories overseen by London, the BVI comprises more than 50 islands with a total of around 30,000 residents including Richard Branson.

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