Chief prosecutor denies not having probed alleged irregularities at Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board
Olga Castellón says investigation underway since September
SAN JUAN — The chief prosecutor of Puerto Rico’s Justice Department, Olga Castellón, on Monday denied allegations that alleged irregularities in the Medical Cannabis Regulatory Board had not been investigated and assured a probe began in September.
“We are not going into the details of what we have been investigating in relation to this matter, but all angles are being investigated,” Castellón said in an interview with WKAQ radio, adding that the investigation began in “September 2018, the date when it was alleged to have been brought to the attention of the secretary of justice. Witnesses have been interviewed and the investigation is open.”
On Friday, Sandra Rodríguez Cotto published on her website, “En Blanco y Negro con Sandra,” that based on text messages and chats Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced refused to investigate an alleged corruption scheme at the Medicinal Cannabis Regulatory Board that benefited María Palau Abasolo and José Giovanni Ojeda, who are married and are executive mansion advisers and allegedly forced cannabis licenses be issued to specific companies. Another matter Rodríguez Cotto delved into was the lack of an investigation into an alleged fraud scheme that culminated in the disappearance of $11 million from the Pharmacies Board.
Meanwhile, Noticel reports that these accusations seem to originate from lobbyists and add to allegations that the governor’s former representative to the island’s Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, Elías Sánchez, had the ability to influence officials of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s government. Also mentioned is the alleged influence of Sánchez’s wife, Valerie Rodríguez Erazo.
These allegations would hinder Vázquez Garced’s taking over as governor when Gov. Ricardo Rosselló steps down Aug. 2, pursuant to the Constitution’s order of succession, after the secretary of state, who has yet to be replaced, resigned. On Sunday, the Justice secretary said she was not interested in becoming governor and asked Rosselló to appoint a new secretary of State.
“What usually happens is people expect that as soon as they refer [a case], the Justice Department has to give them an update about what we are doing, and that’s not how it goes,” the official said.
“Once a charge is made…the Justice Department starts to work on it, but doesn’t start calling to say we interviewed so and so because that is improper. Justice Department investigations are covered by confidentiality, just as investigations under the grand jury must remain in secrecy. They are confidential, cannot be disclosed, and it would be irresponsible as well as illegal to make such disclosures to third parties that have nothing to do with the Department of Justice,” she added.
The also federal prosecutor defended the work of the department and clarified that the Special Independent Prosecutor’s Panel (PFEI by its Spanish initials) is responsible for prosecuting corruption cases and that 39 referrals have been made. She also explained that federal authorities can also collaborate in these cases, under the concurrent jurisdiction.