Updated: Apr 10
By Bryan Manabat
Saipan — The Office of the Attorney General today filed a criminal case against Gov. Ralph DLG Torres, alleging 12 counts of misconduct in public office and one count of theft relating to his government-funded junkets.
Torres is the first CNMI governor to be criminally charged while in office
The attorney general filed the case on Friday while the CNMI Senate drags its feet on the pending impeachment proceedings against Torres. At least six of the nine senators must vote to convict in order to remove the governor from office.
In a statement released later, the CNMI Office of the Governor said it has received a copy of the charges filed by the attorney general.
"The Office of the Governor trusts in the CNMI's justice system and declines to comment further on the pending litigation. The matter has been forwarded to Governor Torres' private counsel," the statement reads.
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The charges enumerated in the attorney general’s complaint were similar to some of the allegations contained in the articles of impeachment passed by the CNMI House of Representatives and in the Senate version.
The case filed by the attorney general also includes one count of contempt for ignoring a legislative summons.
Last year, Torres was found in contempt of a legislative subpoena issued by the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations which was investigating his questionable public spending.
In a statement, Attorney General Edward Manibusan said, “the charges follow months of a thorough investigation by the Office of the Attorney General Investigator Division.”
“The next step in the process will be to have Governor Torres arraigned and allow the case to proceed in accordance with the criminal justice system. As this is now an active case, neither I, nor my office, can provide further comments,” Manibusan said.
Manibusan served as the CNMI Democratic Party's chair from 2012 to 2014.
Superior Court clerk Patrick Diaz today issued a penal summons, directing Torres to appear in court on April 18 at 9 a.m. for his arraignment.
According to the filing, Torres committed “misconduct in public office” on nine occasions from April to December 2018 in connection with his purchases of business class, first class and other premium travel tickets for himself and his wife, first lady Diann T. Torres.
The filing also includes theft charges related to Torres’ travel expenses amounting to $20,000, between April 2018 and May 30, 2019, using public funds.
The Republican governor was impeached by the Democrat-led House of Representatives on Jan. 12 by a vote of 15-4 with 1 abstention, on allegations of felonies of theft, corruption and neglect of duty. He has denied the charges.
Late Friday afternoon, Associate Judge Teresa Kim-Tenorio officially disqualified herself from Torres' case, saying her impartiality might be questioned.
In December last year, all judges of the CNMI Superior Court recused themselves from hearing a complaint filed by Torres against the JGO committee alleging that the legislative subpoena it issued was invalid and unlawful.
The first CNMI governor to be impeached by the House was Benigno R. Fitial in February 2013 by a vote of 16 to 4. He resigned before the Senate could conduct a trial.
Torres, the ninth governor of the CNMI, first assumed the gubernatorial seat on Dec. 29, 2015 following the death of Gov. Eloy Inos. In 2018, he was reelected as governor in his own right, defeating former governor Juan Babauta. At 42, Torres became the youngest incumbent governor in the United States.