A “senior government official” was arrested last week and charged with breach of trust in relation to an ongoing investigation within His Majesty’s Customs, police said.
But you won’t read who it is or what happened in this news story.
That’s because police have departed from the usual practice here and in the United Kingdom and declined to name the official arrested on Dec. 13.
And instead of providing details or context on the allegations, their 64-word press release announcing the charge offers little explanation.
“As this matter will now be subjudice, the [police force] will make no further comment,” it concludes.
While some Virgin Islands media outlets have named an individual in connection with the arrest, the Beacon has chosen not to follow suit because it was unable to confirm the information through official channels.
In an email to the Beacon, Police Commissioner Mark Collins defended the decision not to name the individual, citing “sensitivities” in the case but declining to explain further.
“You are correct that usually after charge we would release the name,” Mr. Collins wrote. “However, we carefully considered this matter and decided not to.”
The Magistrates’ Court did not circulate a link for any virtual proceedings as it often does when arrest matters are brought before the court, and no information about a plea or court date has been disclosed.
The police force’s decision in this case runs counter to its typical practice.
In the first three weeks of December, for instance, the force’s Facebook page describes 10 instances where individuals were arrested and charged. The alleged crimes ranged from burglary and assault to theft and forgery. In every other case apart from the “senior official,” police named the accused.
And in the past, the police have also named other government officials arrested and charged with breach of trust.
They have included two former Education and Culture Ministry officials who were charged as part of an investigation into the controversial Elmore Stoutt High School perimetre wall project: assistant secretary Lorna Stevens and current Sixth District Representative Myron Walwyn, the former MEC minister.
Also previously named by police in a breach-of-trust case was Najan Christopher, who was charged in connection with a diplomatic note that was allegedly sent without authorisation to request diplomatic immunity for then-Premier Andrew Fahie shortly after his Miami arrest on drug conspiracy charges, police said.
In the United Kingdom, which often serves as a model for VI policing policies, police typically name suspects who are arrested and charged. According to the “authorised professional practice” document of the UK’s College of Policing, there should be few exceptions to the practice of naming those charged.
“Those charged with an offence — including those who receive a summons to court — should be named, unless there is an exceptional and legitimate policing purpose for not doing so or reporting restrictions apply,” the college states on its website.
It adds that suspects in youth court proceedings should not be publicly named.
“Forces should proactively release charging information where the crime is of a serious nature, such as rape or murder, where the incident has already been reported in the media or on social media sites, or for public reassurance reasons,” the college states.
HM Customs scrutiny
The VI official’s arrest comes after a flurry of scrutiny into the Customs Department in recent years.
In 2021, during two days of hearings before the Commission of Inquiry, it was revealed that six years earlier, the Internal Audit Department discovered that someone had presented receipts for cash payments of almost $265,000 to the Customs Department for importing fuel at Port Purcell, but this money never made it into the government’s coffers. Though the IAD suspected fraud, no one was charged in connection with the incident, according to the agency’s report.
The COI also reviewed the Import Duty Partial Payment Plan, the Customs Automated Processing System, and the Courier Trading Declaration Process at the agency, identifying multiple issues with officers’ efforts to recover fees and potential conflicts of interest.
The COI report released in April 2022 recommended that police probe possible corruption within Customs, and the next month Governor John Rankin announced that he had asked the police commissioner to launch this criminal investigation.
Sent on leave
Then, in August 2022, it was widely reported — but not officially announced by the VI government — that longtime Customs Commissioner Wade Smith was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, the nature of which wasn’t disclosed.
High Court records confirm that Mr. Smith subsequently sued the VI government via judicial review to challenge the forced leave.
That review remains ongoing.
Mr. Smith and attorney Terrence Williams, who has represented him in the past, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.