Diplomat Profile: Benito Wheatley and the challenges for BVI diplomacy
October 1, 2015 marks one year since Eliezer “Benito” Wheatley took the helm at the British Virgin Islands (BVI) London Office. The representative office is the BVI’s official mission to the UK and European Union. Over the course of the past 12 months, Wheatley has provided high-level diplomatic support to his government, while at the same time managing the office’s day-to-day operations.
Wheatley currently serves as the BVI’s UK and EU Representative managing the territory’s interests before UK and EU stakeholders. He is also the Director of the BVI London Office and is responsible for the office’s operations. The 38-year-old representative says his training and experience has prepared him for the job as the BVI’s top diplomat at its flagship mission abroad. Prior to his appointment as Director, he was the office’s Deputy Director and Political Officer. He was recruited in 2011 to provide former Director Kedrick Malone with support in defending the BVI’s position in Europe in the aftermath of the global financial crisis when the jurisdiction and other small international financial centres came under international scrutiny. “It was thought that my background knowledge and professional experience in international relations, political economy and regulatory policy would very helpful to government efforts at the time,” says Wheatley.
Prior to joining the BVI London Office, Wheatley was an analyst at the International Affairs and Services Department at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) in Washington, DC, which regulates the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ among others, and had first-hand experience of the global financial crisis when the financial meltdown occurred in the US. However, even before joining FINRA he was active in international affairs, as an alumnus of the London School of Economics and Political Science where he earned a MSc in International Strategy and Diplomacy from the LSE Ideas programme. He is also a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Alongside his diplomatic responsibilities, Wheatley says of his task of running the mission that “we have many of the same responsibilities of small embassies and high commissions in London. These include consular duties involving our citizens and students in the UK, as well as dealing with prospective visitors to the territory. We also perform a number of other functions that include trade and investment promotion and cultural exchange.”
He is also responsible for the management of BVI House in Mayfair where they are located. The building houses commercial tenants and the BVI’s UK offices of the Virgin Islands’ Shipping Registry and BVI Tourist Board.
Wheatley says that over the past 12 months the office has narrowed its strategic focus, with a particular concentration on financial services. The BVI remains engaged with international partners as the landscape of the global regulatory environment continues to change. “The BVI’s continued success as an international financial centre depends on maintaining our international reputation as a well regulated and efficient jurisdiction. My job is to ensure that key UK stakeholders are aware of the high international standards of regulation that the BVI continues to meet, and to dispel any myths about our business model.”
In this regard, he notes that the BVI has been rated by the OECD Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes as largely compliant under the peer review process and is signed up to the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, as well as FATCA agreements with the US and UK. The BVI is also a party to 27 Tax and Information Exchange Agreements with OECD and non-OECD countries and is a member of the Early Adopters group that has committed to the early adoption of the OECD’s new Common Reporting Standard for the automatic exchange of information between tax authorities.
However, the BVI London Office has also been pursuing a number of sustainable development objectives for which it is providing critical international support. This work is being taken forward multilaterally in areas such as renewable energy, climate change and marine biodiversity in partnership with other members of the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) in Brussels and the UK Overseas Territories Association in London.
The diplomatic highlight of the past 12 months was the BVI Government’s hosting of a week of regional and international meetings on sustainable development in the BVI in February, in which Wheatley and the BVI London Office played a prominent role. The meetings organised by the EU included CARIFORUM, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) and other sustainable development partners.
Wheatley was instrumental in securing the BVI’s position as host country and co-chair of a regional conference on cooperation in the Caribbean alongside the EU. In the run-up to the meetings, he was the lead OCT Sherpa for the 13th OCT-EU Forum and the OCTA Ministerial Conference Chaired by Premier Dr the Honourable D. Orlando Smith, OBE, which also took place in the BVI. His political engagement with the European Commission throughout the preparatory process was essential to securing the participation at the forum of European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Mr Neven Mimica.
These accomplishments have built up Wheatley’s momentum going forward. He knows the work of a Representative at a small mission is challenging, particularly since the BVI London Office remains a strategic point of contact between BVI and the rest of the world. Nonetheless, he believes it will continue to be successful with the support of the office’s excellent staff, who are committed to advancing the BVI’s interests internationally.