London calls Turks and Caicos PM to account for jet-set life
WITH two private jets on call and a Hollywood wife, the Turks and Caicos prime minister lived like the rich and famous who have made the Caribbean island chain a hot-spot for celebrities.
Michael Misick says his lifestyle allowed him to court luxury property developers and helped put the British territory south-east of the Bahamas on the map.
But his financial dealings are now the focus of an investigative commission that is wrapping up hearings this week on the main island of Providenciales.
The Turks and Caicos still answers to a London-appointed governor, who formed the commission last summer after parliament report found complaints of rampant corruption. The commission could call for a criminal investigation based on what it finds.
The hearings that began on 13 January have included sworn evidence from Mr Misick's estranged wife, actress LisaRaye McCoy, that she used a government-leased jet to holiday in Africa, visit her daughter in Switzerland and commute from Los Angeles. The couple also leased a Rolls-Royce and spent more than 600,000 million on the interior design of their home. Mr Misick has denied abusing public funds.
Investigators said that an eastern European developer, Mario Hoffman, acquired resort land at a deep discount and received tax breaks at about the time one of his bankers gave the prime minister a 4 million loan – part of 14 million in personal loans that Mr Misick has amassed from banks, a developer and political appointees.
Mr Misick, 43, a London-educated lawyer and property broker, testified himself that he continued to collect sales commissions after being elected prime minister.
But he makes no apologies.
When he was criticised for more than doubling his salary and earning more than Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the stocky leader replied: "I have done more for Turks and Caicos than Gordon Brown has done for England."
Now in his second term, Mr Misick is also the tourism minister, the Turks and Caicos' promoter-in-chief. Since he took office in 2003, the gross domestic product in the territory of 22,000 people has more than doubled to 515 million – largely through a resort-building boom.
Island aficionado Mark Amherst of privateislandsblog.com said the Turks and Caicos was "the new No 1 holiday retreat for A-list celebrities". It's the place where Ben Affleck married, Eva Longoria honeymooned and Bruce Willis built a home.
Mr Misick helped feed the buzz by party-hopping with McCoy, a Chicago-born actress who starred on US television.
His troubles started in July when the commission, led by former judge Sir Robin Auld, began studying a range of allegations, including claims that Mr Misick and other island officials profited from the sale of government-owned land.
According to evidence Mr Misick spent 190,000 on jewellry, chartered a jet for a Paris shopping spree and charged more than 600,000 million to an American Express account with his wife in 2006.
McCoy acknowledged she spent as much as 137,000 a month, but she said it was necessary to buy clothes to fit her "First Lady lifestyle."
The prime minister last month said his government "may have made mistakes," but he was confident no laws had been broken.
A little bit of Britain in the West Indies
THE Turks and Caicos Islands are classed as a British overseas territory, a term introduced in 2002 in the act of the same name. Such territories used to be known as crown colonies.
The islands, which have some 30,000 inhabitants who are British citizens, were part of the UK's Jamaican colony until 1962, when they assumed the status of a separate crown colony upon Jamaica's independence.
The governor of the Bahamas oversaw the islands' affairs from 1965 to 1973. With Bahamian independence in 1973, the islands were given their own governor. A plan to make them independent in 1982 was reversed. So the Queen is still head of state and represented by a governor. The government is headed by the premier.
The islands' economy is based on tourism, offshore financial services and fishing. Most capital goods and food for domestic consumption are imported. The US is the leading source of tourists, accounting for more than three-quarters of the 175,000 visitors in 2004.
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