Michael Misick first came to the attention of Commonwealth Update in 2009 when he resigned after an inquiry found “clear signs” of government corruption in the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI), which has the wonderfully inappropriate motto: “Beautiful by nature, clean by choice”. Now he has resurfaced after going on the lam in the intervening years-Britain is asking Brazil to extradite the former premier of the British Caribbean territory. Misick was detained on an Interpol warrant in Rio de Janeiro after apparently living it up for a while in the city. He had requested asylum-which was rejected-after fleeing to South America when he was wanted for questioning over criminal allegations of systemic corruption on the islands.
Misick, who allegedly amassed a $180m fortune since coming to power in 2003, stepped down as premier in 2009, shortly after Britain assumed direct control of the islands’ government. The territory is a leading offshore financial centre and in a crackdown on tax avoidance and other irregularities, Britain suspended much of the Turks & Caicos constitution and imposed direct rule. The premier, Galmo Williams, called it a “coup” and said his country was “being invaded and re-colonised”. Civic leaders, however, welcomed the move.
A Foreign Office inquiry led by Sir Robin Auld stated: “There is a high probability of systemic corruption in government and the legislature and among public officers in the Turks & Caicos Islands in recent years. It appears, in the main, to have consisted of bribery by overseas developers and other investors of ministers and/or public officers, so as to secure crown land on favourable terms, coupled with government approval for its commercial development.” Misick and his deputy, Floyd Hall, deny any impropriety. The TCI have had their own government since 1976 and have been largely independent of Britain since the 1960s.
By coincidence, murky financial dealings in another British Overseas Territory surfaced in the same week after a major fraud trial in Britain. The Guardian reported: “The Achilleas Kallakis case is a graphic demonstration of the way in which the British Virgin Island’s regime of offshore secrecy has served to facilitate fraud.”
Why the Foreign & Commonwealth Office continues to turn a blind eye to certain offshore financial centres was neatly summed up by the diplomat Sir Edward Clay, who wrote of the BVI’s secrecy jurisdiction: “The money held in such places comes from all over the world and probably doesn’t bear examination-which is why it doesn’t get much. But it conveniently looks after our payments deficit, and saves us the cost of running our small dependencies.”
Though attention remains focused on Switzerland and Liechtenstein, the opaque economies and suspect banking that help keep the fag-end of the British empire smouldering have become a poor reflection on London’s vaunted crackdown on tax havens.