The embattled governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has publicly denied allegations of bribery involving Saipan casino operator Imperial Pacific International (IPI).
On Monday, the Marianas Variety printed an op-ed by CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres in which he addressed the FBI raids on his office and home last November. The FBI subsequently revealed that it was investigating possible wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy charges related to illegal campaign contributions.
Torres’ op-ed declares that the “speculation that I have been ‘paid off’ by Imperial Pacific in return for official acts is wrong” and “to suggest that I did something corrupt to help the casino is flat out wrong.” Torres claims that he has “never been offered, nor have I accepted, any money or benefit in return for any decision I have made or any other official act.”
Torres denied having “knowingly received or solicited” any unauthorized campaign contributions. Torres acknowledged that IPI had contributed to his campaign but “the contribution was never used and was returned” after a committee determined that “it was not a contribution that could be accepted.”
Torres went on to deny that he had any “offshore bank accounts” or that there was a “secret stash of cash at my house or anywhere else.” Torres claimed that the FBI failed to find any cash despite having “dug up the pig sty on my property in their misguided effort” to find his alleged pot of illicit gold.
Torres singled out “a particular social media outfit” that he claims is working with his political opponents to fuel “wild speculation” about the FBI probe and make “additional false attacks against me, my family and my administration.” Torres said he was cooperating fully with the investigation and was confident that he would eventually be cleared of any wrongdoing.
To assist that quest, the Saipan Tribune reported that Torres has hired ex-FBI agent Jeremy Wolfe to assist his defense attorneys. The Tribune previously reported that Torres had hired former CNMI federal prosecutor Patrick J. Smith as his defense counsel.
The FBI’s November raids also visited the offices of IPI, as well as the offices of an IPI consultant, a local real estate firm and a law firm run by Gov. Torres’ two brothers. In 2018, Bloomberg News reported on “millions of dollars” that IPI paid Torres’ family members through a variety of transactions, including overvalued real estate deals. Torres and IPI rejected the allegations as baseless.
Earlier this month, the Guam Daily Post reported that the Internal Revenue Service had seized over $456k from bank accounts belonging to IPI consultant Alfred Yue. On January 4, the funds were forfeited to the IRS, which didn’t offer any explanation as to why the funds were seized in the first place.
IPI has numerous critics among CNMI legislators, some of whom have openly questioned the favorable treatment the casino operator has received from the local government. IPI has been accused of getting away with failing to remit its required share of business gross revenue tax and failing to make $37m in required contributions to the CNMI Community Benefit Fund.
IPI will soon report its full-year 2019 financial performance, which promises to be eye-opening. The company previously revealed that it lost $240m in the first six months of last year as its revenue fell by 82% and there’s no indication that the company’s fortunes have undergone any significant turnaround since then.