Puerto Rico Governor Scandal

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello speaks during a press conference in La Fortaleza's Tea Room, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, July 16, 2019.  (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

The Puerto Rico Bar Association (CAAPR by its Spanish acronym) affirmed  that there are sufficient legal bases for the P.R. House of Representatives to begin an impeachment process against Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

The institution disclosed on Friday the content of the report made by “jurists of the highest caliber,” which reportedly reveals conduct and omissions made in a leaked chat that may constitute serious and less serious crimes that involve depravity.

“In the midst of the historic economic debacle that our country is going through and the humanitarian crisis unleashed by the governments’ poor attention in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, it is terrible for the people to face the corruption accusations over the misuse of public funds, and the improper conduct, possibly criminal and depraved, in which the governor incurred,” CAAPR President Edgardo Román Espada stated.

Román Espada also stressed the island’s socio-economic deterioration and the “democratic undermining” with the presence of the Financial Oversight & Management Board (FOMB), which was created by Congress under the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management & Economic Stability Act in 2016.

In the statement, Román Espada urged the House of Representatives to comply with its “constitutional responsibility” of initiating the impeachment process.

“It is necessary to end this chapter to redirect the country toward the recovery of its economy, the essential services that have been affected, and effective and reliable governance,” he added.

The report—presented by Professors Yanira Reyes Gil and Carlos Iván Gorrín Peralta, as well as former CAAPR President Eduardo Villanueva Cruz—establishes that, because it isn’t a judicial process of criminal nature, but rather a political process, it does not fall under the broad guarantees in an ordinary criminal trial.

The document explains that the impeachment is based on the power bestowed by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to the legislative branch, based on specific causes that are limited to treason, bribery, and serious or less serious crimes that involve depravity.

Without excluding other possibilities, the analysis of the chat shows incidents that require greater investigation because they reveal the governor’s possible participation in public crimes, the document states.

For example, the Association said, the governor’s participation and involvement in the conversations that are aimed at harming, oppressing, threatening or intimidating a person in their free exercise of a guaranteed right or privilege may represent a violation of the federal conspiracy offense, included in the 18 U.S.C. 241, as well as a violation of Article 244 of the Puerto Rico Penal Code.

Moreover, Article 264 of the Penal Code on embezzlement of public funds provides that an official commits a crime if public funds are used for an unauthorized purpose, such as exalting the governor’s image.

“It is reasonable to conclude that a long chat throughout 50 days constituted a public expense to advance interests that were unrelated to properly government performance, but with other undue political and economic interests,” the document reads, adding that this could be in direct violation of Articles 4.2 and 4.7 of the Puerto Rico Government Ethics Act.

The participation of Elías Sánchez also drew concern from the CAAPR. Sánchez worked as Rosselló’s campaign director for the 2016 gubernatorial race, and formerly worked as his representative before the FOMB, but eventually resigned and became a lobbyist for the private sector before the government.

According to the CAAPR, Sánchez’s involvement in the chat could constitute violations to Articles 250 and 251 of the Penal Code, for illicit enrichment and unjust enrichment, respectively. Additionally, Article 252 on the illicit use of public works or services, and Article 254 over undue intervention in government operations. All this, “with the governor’s full consent,” the organization stated.

Article 167 of the Penal Code prohibits the illegal collection of personal information to discriminate against a person in his or her employment permanence. The CAAPR affirmed that to this end, Rosselló intervened directly in a conversation about the intention to replace the wife of Sen. Juan Dalmau (of the Puerto Rican Independence Party) from the position she has maintained for years in the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions.

The governor may have allegedly violated Article 246 of the Penal Code of resistance and obstruction of public authority for preventing compliance to obligations, as well as Article 284 on conspiracy, threats or attacks against officials in the Justice system, in regard to the functions of the former federal monitor of the Police Reform, Arnaldo Claudio.

The CAAPR added that the comment “urging to shoot [her],” used in the chat and aimed at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, could represent violations to Articles 245 of employing violence or intimidation against public authority, and 242 of inciting violence.

The CAAPR released the document at a time of socio-political unrest on the island.

On Wednesday, July 10, several current and former officials were arrested by the federal government under wire fraud, conspiracy, and others. Two of these were the former secretary of Education, Julia Keleher, and the former executive director of the Health Services Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym), Ángela Ávila Marrero.

Shortly thereafter, on Saturday, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI by its Spanish initials) released a Telegram chat between the governor and top Cabinet members, contractors, and former public officials.

In addition to the analysis mentioned above, the chat also contained bigoted statements, implications of manipulation of the press and public opinion, violent and misogynistic language, among others. The officials also discussed government affairs with people who were not employed in the private sector, which has also sparked controversy.

Another issue that drew outrage is the implication that the government withheld hurricane relief in the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which impacted energy and water services island-wide, access to food and drinking water, health services, and more—leaving thousands dead due to lack of basic and emergency services.

As a result of corruption accusations, tens of thousands—allegedly hundreds of thousands—of residents have been protesting every day in Old San Juan since July 13, calling for Rosselló to resign. Puerto Ricans living or traveling abroad have also echoed these calls in areas like San Francisco, New York City, Spain, Florida, Mexico, and others.

Last Wednesday saw its biggest participation yet, with prominent artists like Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny and René “Residente” Pérez joining protesters. Also, last night, reggaeton artist Daddy Yankee spoke out against the governor in Premios Juventud (a Latin music award show).

Despite repeated claims, which have ended in confrontations between protesters and police officers, the governor remains adamant that he will not resign, stating that his commitment is “stronger than ever.”

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