Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Pubdate: Mon, 6 Apr 1998
Author: Robert Hoffman - Associated Press


ST. JOHN'S, Antigua -- Antigua's top anti-drug official had just leaned
over to turn up a cricket match on his car radio when a bullet smashed
through the rear window, showering him in shattered glass.

"If it were not for the cricket, I probably would not be here now," said
Wrenford Ferrance, who believes he was targeted because he is making it
harder to launder drug profits in this Caribbean nation.

In Trinidad, a former attorney general was shot repeatedly in front of his
home in a 1995 assassination that investigators blame on drug traffickers
even though the crime officially remains unsolved.

No one has been arrested in the Feb. 13 attack on Ferrance either. But he
and other Antiguan officials say it will not deter their efforts to fight
the illegal drug trade.

In recent years, the Caribbean has become a major drug trafficking route
between the cocaine producers of South America and consumers in the United
States and Europe.

To help fight that trend, the United States and Britain are urging several
Caribbean nations, including the dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda,
to take another look at their international banking businesses.

In some cases, drug traffickers look to Caribbean-based banks to turn huge
amounts of cash into bank deposits that appear legitimate. Ferrance is
tightening up banking rules in Antigua, which has long had a reputation for
lax bank regulation.

The island also has been tarred with allegations of drug-related corruption.

In 1990, for example, a brother of Prime Minister Lester Bird was named a
conspirator in a shipment of 10 tons of Israeli arms to the Medellin
cocaine cartel in Colombia.

The brother, Vere Bird Jr., maintained his innocence in the fraud and
customs law case, although a British judge brought in to hold a public
hearing found he was implicated along with an Antiguan colonel and several

There never was a trial, but the prime minister fired his brother from the
Cabinet. Last year, however, Vere Bird Jr. was brought back into the
government as an adviser.

Another Bird brother, Ivor, was arrested in 1995 at the island's airport,
allegedly with 22 pounds of cocaine in his possession. He was sentenced to
a fine of $28,000 or two years in jail. He paid the fine.

Such incidents heighten fears that drug gangs are seeking, and sometimes
gaining, political clout in the small island nations of the Caribbean.

On nearby St. Kitts, a large delivery of cocaine brought down the
government in 1994 after some of the cocaine was found in a house shared by
three sons of Deputy Prime Minister Sidney Morris.

One brother disappeared with his companion, and their skeletons later were
found in the trunk of a car. The island's police superintendent, who was
investigating their disappearance, was shot and killed.

A Scotland Yard detective gave reports to the St. Kitts government that
never were published.

The two surviving Morris brothers, who were suspects in the killing of
their brother, were arrested but later released -- one after a local judge
denied a U.S. extradition request on drug charges.

The scandal forced elections three years early that unseated the party that
had governed St. Kitts for nearly 15 years.

On Antigua, since 1996, Ferrance has revoked the licenses of seven
"offshore" banks, which take deposits from foreigners. And he is proposing
to prohibit offshore banks from accepting cash deposits and to require them
to report suspicious clients.

Ferrance also assembled computer experts, lawyers and former agents of the
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration to
train Antiguan regulators. A British drug agent, meanwhile, is being
assigned to Antigua for two years.

Patrick T. O'Brien, a former U.S. Customs Service agent who served on one
Antigua task force, said the attack on Ferrance was typical of the response
seen in drug-producing countries like Colombia when officials crack down on

"It was not just a warning," O'Brien said. "If these types want to issue a
warning, they put a bullet through your house window in the middle of the
night. When they fire directly on an occupied vehicle, they are playing for

Copyright 1998 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.