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Will the Torres investigation move forward under the new president?

By Troy Torres

Anti-Trump Americans across the country are celebrating the network calls that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be the next president and vice president. Trump supporters are holding out hope the courts will reverse count decisions in battleground states before the Electoral College casts its votes next month at the Capitol.

National issues, like a president's foreign policy, or his take on universal health care, will have lasting effects on the whole country, including the U.S. territories that make up the Mariana Islands. But perhaps the biggest issue facing the people of the Marianas is the corruption investigation into CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres, his family, and his cronies.

One year and a day ago, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, armed with warrants sealed by the U.S. District Court of the NMI, raided the Governor's Office, his home, and the legal offices of the controversial casino. Within days, federal court documents were leaked, showing the world Mr. Torres and his family were under investigation for a slew of federal crimes, including money laundering, wire fraud, and foreign interference in United States elections.

The investigation has languished, despite the raids and the mounting evidence of corruption by the Torres administration. An official, who spoke to Kandit on condition of anonymity, said forward movement on indictments against the governor and his family has been stymied by the Trump administration.

Investigations dating to 2016 have linked Mr. Torres, former Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo's administration, and elements of the Trump campaign with accepting funds from China to support the President's first campaign. Mr. Torres was the first American governor to endorse Mr. Trump in 2016, a fact that endeared the governor to the president since.

The 2019 raids and the subsequent leak of federal court documents revealed a deeper connection between Mr. Torres and China; the lynchpin has been the ownership and operation of Imperial Pacific International (CNMI), LLC, the company that runs the behemoth casino operation in Garapan. Its former CEO used to run one of Mr. Trump's casino operations. Several former and current members of the company's advisory board are establishment Republicans, though brand name Democrats also are part of the group.

Does a Biden presidency unshackle the FBI?

Indictments have yet to be announced stemming from the 2019 raids. Whether indictments already have happened and are sealed is a whole other question. Since the raids, several sealed indictments have been handed down by the federal court in Saipan. Some have been unsealed and linked to the casino, including a major RICO case involving the movement and abuse of illegal aliens into the Commonwealth.

The people of the CNMI, who have been waiting to see how the federal government deals with their governor, may get the answer they are looking for in a Biden White House that is not so friendly with Mr. Torres or his cronies. Time will tell.

Commonwealth voters aren't necessarily waiting for the FBI

Voters on November 3 delivered a strong referendum against Mr. Torres, when they ended the Republican majority in the CNMI House of Representatives. If former Congressman Ed Propst accepts his election, then for the first time in decades - if not ever - the Democrats will control the lower house of the Legislature.

And that means trouble for Mr. Torres at home.

The House of Representatives is where articles of impeachment originate. And impeachment - the bringing of formal charges supporting the removal of the governor - is seen as the first and top priority of a new majority. The Democrats, who started as an independent super minority in the current House, first raised the prospect of a local investigation into Mr. Torres in December of last year. Their efforts to subpoena documents and build their case against the governor for financial mismanagement, cronyism, and corruption, has been thwarted by Mr. Torres's henchmen in the Legislature.

Many of them lost their re-election bids this past Tuesday.

Mr. Torres's future as the governor of the CNMI - perhaps even his freedom - now seems to hinge on whether the Electoral College elects Mr. Biden next month, and whether Mr. Propst accepts his election to join the next Legislature.

We shall see.

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