Mr. Bellingham told the Turks and Caicos media that the criminal probe on the heels of a 2009 Commission of Inquiry that found a “high probability of systemic corruption in the former Turks and Caicos Islands government” was making good progress.
“Thirteen people have been charged with corruption, conspiracy to defraud and money laundering,” Mr. Bellingham said.
The huge cost of the investigation to both the UK and the Turks and Caicos Islands was also revealed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The costs of the UK Special Investigation and Prosecution Team’s work were nearly US$6.9 million during the Islands 2010/11 budget year and US$7.6 million for the 2011/12 year. Those costs were paid by the local government.
“This represents over four per cent of expenditure and a significant funding challenge for the Turks and Caicos Islands government,” Mr. Bellingham said. “The Turks and Caicos Islands government has introduced a range of new taxes and cut overall expenditure significantly in order to address its structural deficit and put it on course for a sustainable fiscal surplus in financial year 2012/13.”
According to the UK foreign office, the British government has spent around US$19 million in grants over the past three fiscal years in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The grants covered some costs of the special investigations, civil recovery work and support the local police force. Additional costs paid by the UK government included more than US$1 million to set up “a suitable courtroom for the trials which will be held as a result of the investigation”.
Mr. Bellingham and Turks and Caicos Islands Governor Ric Todd noted that the UK hoped to recover the costs of the ongoing investigation and other expenses.
“The [special prosecution team] has agreed a civil recovery order with one individual who has paid the sum of US$1.25 million,” Mr. Bellingham said. “The civil recovery team has made in excess of 40 separate recoveries of money and/or land. The monetary element is US$12, including payments already made, judgements obtained and still to be collected, and agreements to pay.
“More than 900 acres of land have also been returned to the Crown with a value of tens of millions of dollars.”
Mr. Bellingham also fielded questions about why the UK had not left the criminal investigation to the local police force. He said the Turks and Caicos Islands police was a “dedicated and experienced” force, but needed to focus on their main goal of keeping law and order within the territory; that the police force simply did not have the resources to carry out such a far-ranging and complex investigation and keep the streets secure.
“In a similar situation in the UK, an outside police force would be brought in to investigate and there is plenty of precedent for this,” the minister noted.