Islands' Chief Minister, Indicted on U.S. Drug Charges, Resigns

United Press International

Norman Saunders, the chief minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, who was indicted with fellow officials in Miami on charges of conspiring to smuggle drugs into the United States, resigned Friday.

British-appointed Governor General Christopher Turner announced Saunders' resignation, effective immediately, and said that "all other ministers and the parliamentary secretaries have under the constitution ceased to hold office."

Turner said that he will call a meeting of the island's Legislative Council next week to elect a new chief minister, who will then select subordinate ministers.

Still Council Member

The governor said that Saunders had submitted his resignation in a letter but did not give any other details. He said that Saunders continues to be an elected member of the Legislative Council.

Turner had asked U.S. drug enforcement agents months ago to investigate the 41-year-old Saunders for his alleged involvement in the narcotics trade.

The Turks and Caicos Islands are a semi-autonomous British possession about 90 miles north of the Dominican Republic and 575 miles southeast of Miami.

"I believe it is in everybody's interest for the election of a chief minister to take place without any great delay," Turner said.

Four Arrested in Miami

Undercover U.S. drug enforcement agents arrested Saunders and Commerce Minister Stafford Missick, parliamentary aide Aulden Smith and Canadian businessman Andre Fournier in a Miami hotel March 5 after a nine-month investigation.

The four were indicted on charges of conspiring to use the 37-island archipelago to ship about 1,800 pounds of cocaine per week into the United States from South America.

Saunders, a lay Methodist minister and leader of the British colony for 5 1/2 years, was the highest-ranking foreign official to be arrested on U.S. soil.

The three government officials have claimed parliamentary immunity against the conspiracy charges.

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