By Andrew Willis, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A former prime minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Michael Misick, was arrested at Rio de Janeiro’s domestic airport earlier this month as he tried to board a flight for São Paulo. Misick fled the Turks and Caicos Islands, one of five remaining British colonies in the Caribbean, in 2009 after an official investigation uncovered evidence of systematic corruption.
For the past year Misick has been pursuing a “sophisticated life” in Rio’s fashionable Ipanema district in the Zona Sul (South Zone), according to Rio de Janeiro Interpol chief Orlando Nunes. The area is popular with tourists and foreigners living in Brazil and is known for its expensive boutiques and restaurants.
Nunes said the arrest sent out a clear message that Rio is not willing to harbor international criminal suspects. “This is an important arrest because it shows that Rio de Janeiro is not a mess. If you come here to hide, you could get [caught],” Nunes said.
Misick had official documents that allowed him to work in Brazil, but a request for political asylum was rejected last month, according to Nunes. Interpol General Secretariat HQ refused requests for further information on the case.
Misick led the Turks and Caicos Islands between 2003 and 2006, and then again between 2006 and 2009. Originally seen as a bright star of the Progressive National Party of which he was a member, stories of his lavish lifestyle gradually eroded his standing and increased suspicions of potential corruption.
During one encounter, he famously presented his former wife, the U.S. model Lisa-Raye McCoy, with a Rolls-Royce Phantom worth US$437,000. The two also reportedly made regular trips to Los Angeles, Switzerland, Milan and Africa aboard a leased jet.
An inquiry in 2009 by a retired British judge, Sir Robin Auld, found a “high probability of systemic corruption” in the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands, leading the British government to suspend Misick, his cabinet and the elected assembly and impose direct rule.
The main allegations center around the sale of state-owned land on the islands to property developers, allegedly netting the government millions and helping to enrich Misick and his cabinet ministers.
Complaining of political persecution by the British, Misick left the Turks and Caicos Islands and an international arrest warrant was subsequently issued for him. He has since failed, however, to secure political asylum in several countries.
Recent elections on the Turks and Caicos Islands returned a new prime minister, Rufus Ewing, also from the Progressive National Party.
The British government is now expected to seek Misick’s extradition from Brazil following his arrest at Rio’s Santos Dumont airport, although when this will take place is unclear, given the complexity of the process.
Misick was alone when he tried to board a flight for São Paulo in order to seek legal advice from one of the city’s lawyers. The arrest order was issued by Brazilian Supreme Court judge Ricardo Lewandowski on November 22nd, following communication with Interpol.