Statement from Governor Augustus Jaspert
November 10, 2020
I would like to deliver an update on the state of security in the Territory and I am joined by the Commissioner of Police, who can update on recent successful operations.
Here in BVI, we pride ourselves on being one of the safest places in the region. Our community is based on shared values of respect, rule of law and love for one’s neighbours. We have fantastic and effective officers in our Police, Customs and Immigration teams that are committed to keeping people safe. Together, we are united in our shared aspiration to make these islands as successful and secure as they can possibly be.
However, we cannot ignore the fact that BVI is vulnerable to the smuggling of people and drug and related criminality, in part due to our geography and our location. I have long-held concerns regarding the porous nature of our borders and the increasing number of seizures in nearby waters. Earlier this year, my concerns led me to invite HMS Medway to BVI waters in order to help protect our Territory and I have long been advocating reforms to increase our police capability and border security.
Following reports over the weekend, my concerns about the security of our borders and our vulnerability to drug smuggling have increased even more. I understand that many are equally concerned about the state of security in BVI and want to know what is being done to protect the community. I would like to take this opportunity to set out some of the action being taken to protect BVI from the scourge of drug-related criminality.
I will start by briefly recapping recent events. On Friday 6th November, Everton McMaster, Jr. was brutally murdered. I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mr. McMaster and to the Baugher’s Bay community – where the horrific attack took place. I feel shocked and saddened that such a violent and brazen act can happen on our streets in broad daylight. This is not the first time we have heard of gun-related violence and murders in our community and I extend my condolences to all those who have been affected by such appalling crimes. All law abiding people in BVI have a right to feel safe on their streets and I, as Governor, will do all I can to protect that right.
Separate to this, on Friday 6th November, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force raided a property in Tortola and seized an extremely large quantity of cocaine and multiple loaded firearms. Following the seizure, arrests have been made and the individuals are being held in custody. As the Commissioner said, one of those arrested is a serving member of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.
The quantity of cocaine seized is the largest in BVI history – 2,353 kilos with an estimated street value of $250 million as the Commissioner stated. The value of the seizure equates to around 75% of our entire national budget in the BVI. It is also one of the largest seizures in the history of any British Overseas Territory or the UK. I share these figures as an illustration of just how large this seizure is. The Police conducted exceptional and high risk work to enable such a significant seizure. Its size indicates that drug smuggling can potentially have debilitating and deteriorating effects on our Territory, and the level of safety and good governance we expect and deserve.
My view and that of law enforcers is that this is not the work of a few criminals sneaking through the cracks or a one off. A seizure of this scale, especially when combined with other seizures made in recent months, is strong evidence of serious and organised criminality here in BVI. The investigation is at an early stage, but regrettably, the involvement of a police officer indicates that there may be pockets of corruption facilitating this kind of illicit activity. It is important that we act fast to eliminate and prevent this corruption from growing further.
And, on Sunday 8th November, a fast boat, since reported stolen by a known criminal, capsized off the coast of BVI. $99,000 in cash was found on the boat and the two individuals rescued are now in Police custody. The investigation is again in early stages and we cannot confirm whether this is connected to Friday’s seizure.
I would like to pause at this moment and extend my thanks to the members of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force for their work in conducting this historic seizure. It was a dangerous and complex operation, which required significant courage and professionalism. The significance of their bust is beyond anything the officers have seen in their lifetimes and will make our streets and others around the world a safer place. It has shown drug smugglers that BVI will not tolerate their illicit activity – we can and will stop trafficking. Our officers who led the investigation and raid should be incredibly proud of their effort and I hope we all feel proud of what they have achieved. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
I am also grateful to our Customs and Immigration officers, who continue to do diligence and difficult work to secure the border as part of the Joint Task Force. They have faced significant challenges, but they have risen to them 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. I expect that their presence on the water has helped deter smugglers and help keep drug trafficking away from our islands. Again, I hope they feel proud of their efforts and I hope we as a community can feel proud of the contribution they are making to keep us safe.
I know that our police officers will be feeling troubled by the news that a fellow officer has been arrested in conjunction with this seizure. This is certainly difficult and disappointing news to process for us all. The vast majority of police officers, public officers, and indeed the vast majority of BVI, are honest and dedicated individuals who serve the Territory to the best of their ability every day. It is important that we remember this.
We believe these three crimes are unrelated, but put together they present a concerning picture of the state of security in BVI – drug smuggling, gun crime, murder and potential corruption. The fact that corruption has occurred is a sobering sign that our institutions can be manipulated. If we fail to tackle corruption now, there is a danger that it could spread throughout our institutions, businesses and society. This must be a wake-up call - we cannot allow BVI to become a target for drug trafficking and criminality in the region.
Fortunately, we have taken significant steps to bolster our law enforcement in recent years. We have built back our Police Stations, expanded our foot print in the community and trained officers in specialist skills - supported by funds from the UK Government. We have also bolstered border security with the establishment of the Joint Task Force.
I am currently considering other forms of training and support from the UK, both immediate support that will enable us to conduct more effective border patrols and long-term capability building of our agencies. I cannot go into further details as this is still being discussed with NSC, but I will update as soon as appropriate.
These actions will help us protect the borders, but they need to be matched by actions to help protect against corruption. I believe that we have not done enough over the years to ensure that no kind of corruption can take place within our institutions in the Territory.
Now is the time to send a clear message that there is no place for crime or corruption in BVI. To do so, we need robust legislative reforms to make our institutions more transparent and properly protect against individuals abusing their positions. We urgently need the proposed legislation - an Integrity Commission, modernised Police Act, an Unexplained Wealth Order and other anti-corruption measures. I am pleased that these were included in my recent Speech from the Throne and hope that the Premier and Members of the Government, in light of this weekend’s developments, can move swiftly on this agenda and progress important governance legislation, which is now long overdue.
As Governor, I can offer my full assurances to the people of BVI that I will do all in my power to ensure that BVI remains a safe place, and that we operate at the highest standards of integrity and governance. The criminal investigations will go forward and I will not comment further on them as they are live matters.
My greatest concern amongst all of this is the safety and security of the people of these islands. I will not allow BVI to become a place where serious organised crime plagues our communities or where crime and corruption plagues our institutions. BVI remains a safe place to be and a caring and kind community. For that, we are the envy of many. But we should not take this for granted or allow ourselves to become complacent.
Anyone who holds information can go to the Police and any information will be treated with the highest levels of confidence. As Governor, my Office is always open to members of the community who may wish to discuss a concern. I remain in close touch with Cabinet, the National Security Council – we met this morning - and our law enforcement agencies to continue monitoring these concerns and ensure that appropriate action is taken. I am also in touch with the UK Government to consider other forms of support that may be required to protect BVI and our institutions. As always, my first priority and consideration is the people of BVI.