Bar Association: Basis to begin impeachment of Puerto Rico gov found
Lawyers: Chat messages could constitute several Penal Code violations
SAN JUAN – The Bar Association of Puerto Rico (CAAPR by its Spanish initials) said Friday that there is sufficient legal basis for the House of Representatives to initiate an impeachment process against Gov.r Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.
The institution disclosed the content of a report by highly regarded lawyers that reveals conduct and omissions of the governor in a chat group with his inner circle that may constitute serious and less serious crimes.
“In the midst of the historical economic debacle that our country is going through and the humanitarian crisis unleashed by the poor attention of governments after the effects of Hurricane Maria, it is terrible for the People to face accusations of corruption due to the looting of public funds and improper conduct, possibly criminal and depraved, incurred by the governor,” Edgardo Román Espada, president of the association, said at a press conference.
Román Espada urged the House of Representatives to fulfill its constitutional duty to initiate the impeachment process.
“It is necessary to finalize this chapter to redirect the Country towards the recovery of its economy, the essential services affected and effective and reliable governance,” he added.
The report prepared by professors Yanira Reyes Gil and Carlos Iván Gorrín Peralta, and the association’s former president, Eduardo Villanueva Muñoz, establishes that because it is not a judicial process of a criminal nature, but a political process, a criminal trial is not guaranteed.
The document explains that the “residenciamiento,” or impeachment, is based on the power afforded to the legislative branch by the Constitution, based on specific causes that are limited to treason, bribery, high crimes or misdemeanors involving depravity. Without excluding other possibilities, the analysis of the chat messages evinces incidents that require further investigation because they reveal the potential participation of the governor in the commission of public crimes, according to the report.
For example, the participation and involvement of the governor in conversations that are aimed at harming, oppressing, threatening or intimidating a person in the free exercise of a guaranteed right or privilege may constitute a violation of the federal crime of conspiracy, contained in the 18 USC 241, in addition to a violation of article 244 of the Penal Code.
Furthermore, article 264 of the Penal Code on misappropriation of public funds stipulates that an official commits a crime if public funds are used for an unauthorized purpose, such as promoting the governor.
“It is reasonable to conclude that a 50-day long chat constituted a public expense to advance interests not related to the government function itself, but other undue political and economic interests,” which in turn may be a violation of articles 4.2 and 4.7 of the Government Ethics Law.
The participation of Mr. Elías Sánchez, a former official of the current administration and lobbyist, could constitute violations of articles 250 and 251 of the Penal Code (illicit enrichment and unjust enrichment, respectively), of article 252 on the illicit use of public works or services and article 254 on undue intervention in government operations, all this “with full consent of the governor.”
Article 167 of the Penal Code prohibits the illegal collection of personal information to discriminate against a person while in employment. Rosselló Nevares intervened directly in a conversation about the intention of replacing the wife of independence party Sen. Juan Dalmau in the position she has held for years in the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Institutions.
The governor could also have violated article 246 of the Penal Code of resistance and obstruction of public authority for preventing compliance with obligations, as well as article 284 on conspiracy, threats or attacks against officials of the justice system, in relation to functions of the former Federal Police Reform Monitor, Arnaldo Claudio.
In addition, the expression “drooling to shoot,” used in the chat in which the governor participated and addressed to Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto could constitute violations of articles 245 of using violence or intimidation against a public figure and 242 A of inciting violence.