Yard detectives arrest island ex-ministers

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DETECTIVES from Scotland Yard arrested two former government ministers on the Caribbean island of Montserrat yesterday. A former Chief Minister and a second high-ranking official from the British colony face corruption charges after a three-year investigation into offshore banking fraud and international money laundering.

The Foreign Office said John Osbourne, Montserrat's Chief Minister until he was voted out of office last year, and Noel Tuitt, a member of the island's legislative council and former Minister of Agriculture, Trade, Land and Housing, faced charges of 'misbehaviour in public office' when they appeared in court yesterday.

Both men were freed on bail and ordered to surrender their passports when they appeared before magistrates in Plymouth, Montserrat's chief town.

Both men were arrested after an investigation by Scotland Yard's fraud squad. A Foreign Office spokesman said Scotland Yard officers were acting as special constables of the Royal Montserrat Police. He added that the inquiry had been paid for by the Foreign Office.

The investigation was called for by Christopher Turner, the former Governor of Montserrat, who said there were 'good grounds for suspicion that certain offshore banks are used for fraudulent purposes'. After requesting help from the Foreign Office, Scotland Yard was called in. The investigation, led by Det Chief Supt Howard Jones, uncovered evidence that more than 300 offshore banks registered on the 39 square mile island were involved in tax evasion schemes and laundering money for South American cocaine dealers. Police in Canada and the United States also discovered evidence of 'irregularities'.

The Foreign Office ordered responsibility for supervising offshore banking be taken away from the locally elected administration to the Governor. The move was strongly opposed by Mr Osbourne, who called for independence from Britain for Montserrat's 12,000 inhabitants.

Two Bank of England supervisors called in as consultants shortly afterwards ordered the closure of at least 319 offshore banks on the grounds they were 'unacceptable'. Most were banks in name only taking advantage of the lack of supervision and secrecy. Three onshore banks, including Barclays Bank, were also investigated by detectives but were found to have acted lawfully. The investigation took a sinister twist when one of six people charged with fraud in connection with offshore banking died in mysterious circumstances. John Perry Garibay, an American, was found dead in the sea off the southern tip of the island after going swimming with friends. Mr Garibay, from Michigan, was described as a strong swimmer.

Scotland Yard submitted a report to the Attorney General of Montserrat, Stanley Moore, who ordered the arrests.