Articles of impeachment for the governor have been voted through to the Senate by the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The House voted in favor of six articles to impeach Republican Gov. Ralph Torres, relating to theft of utility services; theft; unlawful first and business class travel; corruption, for misuse of government resources; and two articles of neglect of duty, for negligence during crisis and contempt of legislature.
All six articles passed through the majority Democrat House of Representatives in a 15-4 vote with one abstention. The governor will now face the Republican-controlled Senate.
Every article related to the use of public funds, whether through reimbursements or use of funds for travel. His spending included at least 120 trips by plane and 85 boat trips over his six years in office at a cost of $550,000, as well as theft of utilities, including $177,000 in utilities from the taxpayer-funded Commonwealth Utilities Corporation for several houses and a commercial piggery.
Torres was defended by four of his supporters in the House, all Republican, who cited lacking legislation, incomplete information and political partisanship in the House decision.
“Why hasn’t the public auditor or the attorney general addressed any of the JGO’s claims for any violations? In my opinion maybe the simple answer is that no crime has been committed,” GOP Rep. Patrick San Nicolas said. “The JGO is simply trying to convince this body and the people of the CNMI that their disapproval of how the governor exercises his authority and discretion equates to felony.”
Torres has maintained his innocence throughout the investigation and refused to cooperate with the JGO Committee’s requests for testimony and a subpoena. Torres also sued the committee to quash the subpoena and claimed the process was a politically motivated stunt by Democrats.
On Friday, Torres accused JGO Committee Chair Celina Babauta of being politically motivated in her committee’s investigation.
Babauta denied partisanship within the committee investigation, and leveled further accusations against Torres and his legal counsel.
Babauta cited several emails between Richard Miller, the governor’s counsel, and the CNMI Supreme Court, in which Miller requested an in-chambers meeting between the U.S territory’s chief justice and Torres. The chief justice denied the request.
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