Designated Justice Secretary: PFEI “Isn’t Necessary”
SAN JUAN — Designated Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced affirmed Friday that “there is no need” for the Panel of the Independent Special Prosecutor (PFEI by its Spanish initials) because the Justice Department (JD) could present the same charges against the public officials that incur in law infringements through its Public Integrity Division.
When questioned by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz during the confirmation hearing for the designated secretary of Justice, Vázquez Garced declared that the agency could present those cases, but clarified that the reason the PFEI exists is for there to be an “independent entity” to investigate and thus prevent “somebody from questioning the process,” especially anything of political nature.
The PFEI “isn’t necessary,” answered Vázquez Garced to Rivera Schatz’s questions. The latter scrutinized the panel because he believed it to be slow in presenting cases. These cases, in various instances, are previously investigated by the JD, so efforts are doubled, he emphasized.
The Senate leader explained after the hearing ended that he doesn’t know any special independent prosecutor that has presented a case within the first 90 days granted for the process after receiving a referral from a law enforcement agency. In most cases, he argued, they even ask for up to two extensions of 90 days before submitting charges.
“I don’t have anything to say of any PFEI official. What I am referring to is the structure… In a moment of fiscal crisis, we have to see how we can maximize resources, and I find it unsustainable to continue investing such a large amount of money to achieve long-term results if we can do it immediately [in the JD],” stated Rivera Schatz, who didn’t say if he would present legislation to eliminate or amend the PFEI.
On another hand, the senator requested the designated Justice secretary to investigate if there are prosecutors in the agency who have presented cases weeks prior to the elections, who could raise suspicions of corruption and influences related to the island’s politicians and then, after the electoral process, have retracted or requested to retire those cases.
Regarding this type of action, Vázquez Garced said during the hearing that “that type of conduct must be the subject of investigation,” since it could deal with criminal or ethical offenses.
However, the hearing concluded with neither Rivera Schatz nor Vázquez Garced clarifying which prosecutors they were talking about. Nor did they mention if Wilda Win Pachecho could be the implied subject, since she oversaw the case of former Capitol Superintendent Eliezer Velázquez for supposed violations to the Law of Control of Political Campaigns (Ley de Fiscalización de Campañas Políticas) and was ascended to auxiliary prosecutor IV in the past special session orchestrated by then-governor Alejandro García Padilla.
“We will be able to provide details when the Senate of Puerto Rico presents the data that is being procured,” said the senator, who claimed the issue concerns prosecutors who “filed false reports, tried to intimidate witnesses” and even offered immunity in exchange for the witness to testify “falsehoods.”
Clarification Demanded in Carlos Muñiz Varela Murder
Meanwhile, Vázquez Garced is committed, as requested by Rivera Schatz and Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Juan Dalmau, to meet with family members of deceased pro-independence leader Carlos Varela Muñiz to discuss advances on the investigation of the murder that took place in 1979.
Although former Justice Secretary César Miranda claimed before leaving the agency that he knew the identity of some of the murderers, Vázquez Garced denied the declarations, since when she gained access to the case, she found “no such names” and no charges were filed.
Upon senators’ request, the Muñiz Varela murder case will be headed by prosecutor Pedro Berríos. Regarding the case, his son, Carlos Muñiz Pérez, who was present in the hearing, told journalists he was hopeful they would solve the case.
No to Death Penalty and Marijuana Legalization
In other affairs, the designated Justice secretary clarified she doesn’t believe in exercising capital punishment and also affirmed she opposes the legalization of the use of recreational marijuana.
As requested by independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot, Vázquez Garced said she believed in a holistic approach to fight drug use.
The senator also recommended the official to approach the Women’s Wide Movement (Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres) to clarify the differences that have surfaced in the past. This feminist organism criticized Vázquez Garced’s past stances as head of the Women’s Advocate Office and repudiated her nomination to the JD.