Britain imposes direct rule on Turks and Caicos

(MIAMI HERALD) Britain on Friday imposed direct rule on its former colony of Turks and Caicos following corruption claims against the territory’s authorities.

The British government said it had suspended the government and legislature and put the London-appointed governor in direct charge of the islands about 500 miles southeast of Florida.

The islands’ premier blasted the move as a “coup” that put Britain “on the wrong side of history.”

“Our country is being invaded and re-colonized by the United Kingdom, dismantling a duly elected government and legislature and replacing it with a one-man dictatorship,” said Galmo Williams, who became premier after his predecessor, Michael Misick, resigned amid a corruption investigation.

Following Misick’s resignation in March, Britain said it planned to suspend parts of the islands’ constitution and dissolve its Cabinet and assembly.

On Wednesday the Court of Appeal in London rejected Misick’s legal challenge to the government’s plans.

British Foreign Office Minister Chris Bryant said the suspension could last up to two years while governor Gordon Wetherell “put the Islands’ affairs back in good order.” He said elections for a new Turks and Caicos government would be held by July 2011.

Wetherell denied the move amounted to a “British takeover.”

“Public services will continue to be run by the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, as indeed they should be,” he said. “But I hope we can now begin to run them better.”

Wetherell appointed a senior British civil servant, Martin Stanley, chief executive of the islands’ temporary government.

The Turks and Caicos is an overseas U.K. territory located in the Atlantic between the Bahamas and Haiti, and its 23,000 residents are British citizens.

It is a popular tourist destination as well as a major offshore tax haven.

Last year Britain appointed a panel to look into allegations of corruption against Misick and other officials. Investigators suggested officials had misused public money and profited from the sale of government-owned land.

Public hearings earlier this year revealed details of Misick’s lavish spending after taking office in 2003. His estranged wife, actress LisaRaye McCoy, described the use of private jets to commute from Los Angeles and other luxuries including a leased Rolls-Royce.

The lead investigator, Robin Auld, said he had found “clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and general administrative incompetence” on the islands.

Misick has denied any wrongdoing and called British panel “modern-day colonialism.”

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