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Turks and Caicos lawyer charged in corruption case

Friday - 9/20/2013, 5:08pm  ET

DANICA COTO
Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- A high-profile attorney who runs a law firm in the Turks and Caicos Islands with numerous international clients was arrested on corruption charges, officials said Friday.

Norman Saunders Jr. was charged as part of an ongoing investigation that has seen the British territory seize money and property that officials say were improperly obtained by corrupt politicians.

Saunders faces three charges such as acquiring criminal property in a case linked to a former government minister whose trial is scheduled to start next year.

Saunders appeared in court Friday but did not enter a plea. He is out on bail and is scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 8, governor's office spokesman Neil Smith said in a phone interview.

A woman who answered the phone at Saunders' law firm, Saunders & Co., said he wasn't there and said she didn't know if he had an attorney. Saunders did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

It is the second time he's been charged, and he previously has denied the allegations.

Saunders is the son of Norman B. Saunders, a former territory chief minister who was indicted in March 1985 in Miami on charges of conspiring to smuggle drugs into the U.S. He was sentenced to eight years in prison. After his release, he was re-elected to the local House of Assembly and still serves as a legislator.

Authorities have so far recovered $20.5 million in cash and 3,000 acres (1,200 hectares) of government property that was illegally sold or bought, Smith said. The total amount of property is worth more than $100 million.

"It is one of the major assets that this island has," he said.

Officials also are still awaiting the extradition of former premier Michael Misick from Brazil, where he was arrested in December on an international warrant issued by Interpol. British authorities say they want to question him as part of the investigation.

Britain imposed three years of direct rule after a commission in 2009 found evidence of systemic corruption. It allowed the territory of some 47,000 people to resume self-government last November.


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