Anna Nicole Smith has become an election-season liability for the Bahamian government, which has had to defend its decision to grant her permanent residency while the former reality TV star fights eviction from a secluded waterfront mansion.
Smith's quick path to Bahamian residency and the high priority given to an investigation into her son's mysterious death are eclipsing the economy and other issues in political debates as the island chain prepares for general elections next year.
The former Playboy Playmate moved to the Bahamas in July and gave birth to a baby girl in September with little public fanfare. That changed when her 20-year-old son, Daniel, died while visiting Smith at the hospital three days after the baby was born. A private examiner concluded he died from a lethal combination of methadone and two antidepressants.
Smith has since dominated local media and politics in the archipelago southeast of Florida.
Allegations of special treatment surfaced after the head coroner scheduled an inquest three days after Daniel Smith's death, despite a backlog of requests for inquests into the deaths of ordinary Bahamians. The outcry prompted officials to reassign the head coroner. The formal inquest has not been held.
Opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, have called for the resignation of Immigration Minister Shane Gibson, who approved Smith's residency application based on her claim of ownership of a waterfront mansion. Now it turns out the mansion might not be hers after all.
"She's had a tremendous impact on our politics, and she's not going away and the scandal isn't going away," said Sir Arthur Foulkes, a newspaper columnist and former Cabinet minister, in an interview.
Gibson personally processed Smith's residency request but denies opposition claims he went to the mansion to collect the $10,000 application fee.
"No check was ever personally collected by me ... in connection with Ms. Anna Nicole Smith," Gibson said. "Anything to the contrary is a vicious lie conceived in ignorance and spread in wickedness."
Prime Minister Perry Christie defended Gibson in September, denouncing a claim that Gibson collected the check as "an outrageous lie." But Christie has not commented publicly on the case since the ownership of the house was called into question.
Smith claimed to own "Horizons," a gated, waterfront mansion where she has remained largely secluded since her son's death. But a South Carolina businessman has sued her, alleging she reneged on an deal to make payments on the nearly $1 million mortgage.
Gibson, fending off demands by the main opposition Free National Movement that he resign, spoke before Parliament on Nov. 1 and blamed any inaccuracies on the lawyers who prepared Smith's residency application.
Smith's Bahamian attorney, Wayne Munroe, has asked a court to declare his client the rightful owner of the house. He said politics had blown the dispute out of proportion.
Christie is obligated to call elections next year. The ruling Progressive Liberal Party, which dominated Bahamian politics from independence from Britain in 1974 until 1992, will seek its second consecutive five-year term.
Opposition leader Hubert Ingraham says that if elected, he would review the Economic Permanent Residency policy, which encourages investment by allowing a person owning a house worth at least $500,000 and being of good character to qualify for Bahamian residency.
He said the Smith case suggests people who don't meet either condition take advantage of the law, and the Bahamas should consider abolishing it.