- By Emmanuel T. Erediano and Bryan Manabat
FBI raids ‘sad, embarrassing,’ says Kilili
Saipan (Marianas Variety) — U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan said it was “sad and embarrassing for the people of the Northern Marianas to know that our governor is under investigation by the FBI.”
But, he added, “in our system of justice, everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
Kilili said he is “encouraging” the governor, “other government officials, and anyone who is approached to cooperate fully with the FBI, other federal and Commonwealth law enforcement officials.”
The people, he added, “have a right to be protected from corruption no matter where it occurs; particularly if it's at the highest office of our Commonwealth.”
IPI Holdings Ltd. and its subsidiary, IPI (CNMI) LLC, issued the following joint statement on Thursday: “First, our companies have nothing to hide and will cooperate with law enforcement authorities. Secondly, we want to assure the people of the CNMI that we continue to be law abiding and good corporate citizens who are proud and privileged to be members of the CNMI.Finally, we want to assure our employees, their families, vendors, patrons, and residents alike that our companies are intent on succeeding and making the CNMI the jewel of the Pacific for our emerging gaming industry."
For her part, Rep. Tina Sablan said “we still do not know the purpose of the FBI searches. But given that the FBI has explicitly stated that public corruption is their top priority in the Marianas, and given that they have raided both the casino as well as the governor's home and office, I think it is reasonable to believe that they are investigating just that: public corruption, at the very top of our government.”
She said the news is “shameful, even given what little we know so far,” but “not entirely surprising.”
She added, “Unfortunately, an unhealthy relationship has developed between Imperial Pacific International and our government, one that has undermined public trust and subverted the rule of law and our democracy. From the very beginning, there have been questions about possible corrupt dealings between the casino and local politicians — even before the Saipan Casino Act became law. So I know that many concerned citizens are relieved to see the involvement of federal law enforcement, and welcome the investigation.”
In a statement on Thursday, while the FBI was still conducting a search at his office, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said: “In every opportunity I have been given to serve this community, I have raised my hand and have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution. A part of this oath is to respect our system of laws and to allow these processes to take their course.”
He said he and his staff will continue to “provide the fullest measure of cooperation to” law enforcement officials.
Rep. Tina Sablan said she is “glad that the governor and IPI have promised to cooperate fully with the investigation. Of course, they have no other choice. But to restore public trust and the integrity of our government, we need more than the cooperation of those being investigated. We need a full commitment to justice and accountability across our entire community. And so I strongly encourage anyone with information that may be helpful to federal investigators to do what's right, come forward, and share what they know.”
Other CNMI lawmakers interviewed by the reporter said they are glad that administration officials and staffers are cooperating with the FBI which has declined to comment on the searches it conducted on Thursday.
House Floor Leader JP Sablan said “it is very important that everyone respects the legal process and cooperate with the federal investigators.”
Rep. Roman Benavente said the FBI raids were “very unfortunate,” but added that the administration is cooperating with the investigators.
Rep. Ralph Yumul said “although no one in the community is sure right now what the federal investigators are looking for, people are cooperating.”
The FBI raids began on Thursday morning, and targeted the governor’s office on Capital Hill, his residence, his car, his siblings’ law office, the offices of Imperial Pacific International, Legend Realty and IPI consultant Alfred Yue of Marianas Consultancy Services LLC at the IPI-owned Vestcor Commercial Plaza on Capital Hill.
In a press conference on Thursday, Lt. Gov. Arnold I. Palacios said the governor’s office provided the FBI “with all the information [they needed] and the access that they have asked.”
The governor’s office, he added, is “completely transparent” and helpful in the investigation.
Palacios said he and the governor also want to assure the people that the administration “remains committed to preserve the integrity of the ongoing process.”
He said the administration is looking forward “to a positive clarification of the issues that they [the FBI] are looking [for].”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reiterated that it cannot comment on an ongoing investigation when asked to provide more information about the search warrants it executed on Saipan on Thursday morning.
Jason K. White, public affairs officer for the Honolulu Division of the FBI, declined to provide copies of the search warrants. He also declined to comment when asked if similar searches were conducted on Tinian or Rota.
Variety sources said the FBI did not conduct raids on Tinian or Rota.
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