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U.S. Justice Department Offers To Pursue Former CNMI AG
Action hinges on request from local attorney general’s office

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 11, 2012) – The U.S. Department of Justice is willing to "pursue" former Attorney General Edward T. Buckingham if the Northern Marianas’ Attorney General’s Office makes the necessary request, according to U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan.

Last week, Sablan asked newly appointed Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas to make the request to U.S. Attorney General Alicia Limtiaco.

San Nicolas is an appointee of Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who has consistently defended Buckingham from critics, while Limtiaco is perceived to be on friendly terms with the governor.

Buckingham left the island on Aug. 4 and was declared by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Superior Court a fugitive from justice for not showing up to answer the charges filed against him by the Office of Public Auditor (OPA).

Buckingham was escorted to the airport by police officials, including the governor’s bodyguard, and they tried to prevent OPA from serving the then-AG with a penal summons. OPA had to ask a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent to serve the summons.

OPA has charged Buckingham with two counts of misconduct in public office and two counts of CNMI Ethics Act and election law violations.

Buckingham and Fitial also signed the controversial no-bid $190 million power purchase contract with Saipan Development LLC before the former AG left the island.

Sablan, in a letter, informed San Nicolas that he, the congressman, has been communicating with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Limtiaco concerning the court order declaring Buckingham a fugitive from justice.

Sablan said he has been informed "that the Department of Justice would be willing to pursue Mr. Buckingham."

"A request from you, as the head of prosecutive authority of the commonwealth, to U.S. Attorney Limtiaco would be necessary, however, to initiate Mr. Buckingham’s capture. Your request would also have to state that the Northern Marianas is willing to expend the resources necessary to extradite the fugitive Buckingham, once he is apprehended," Sablan told San Nicolas.

Sablan added, "I am sure that the people of Northern Marianas Islands now look to you to rebuild their confidence in this important office. I know that you are well aware of the significance the public places on the Buckingham case and that you committed during confirmation hearing to take appropriate action. I encourage you to follow through on that commitment and want you to know that federal authorities have expressed a willingness to assist you in bringing Mr. Buckingham to justice."

Rep. Francisco S. Dela Cruz, R-Saipan, in an interview said he was "very happy" to hear about Sablan’s letter as he expressed hope that San Nicolas would make the request to Limtiaco and Holder.

Dela Cruz has pre-filed House Joint Resolution 17-43 asking Fitial and then-acting Attorney General Viola Alepuyo to extradite Buckingham.

But since Speaker Eli D. Cabrera has yet to call for a House session, the resolution has not been introduced.

Dela Cruz said as soon as a House session is held, he will amend the resolution to remove Alepuyo’s name and replace it with San Nicolas’.

"Again I am very happy. If we were living in a perfect world, we would already have the AGO initiating the move to extradite the former AG. It is unfortunate that we have to be almost asked by Holder for our request when we could have done it ourselves, a long time ago," Dela Cruz said.

In a separate interview, Glen Hunter, an anti-corruption activist, said "it’s refreshing to know that the DOJ is willing to pursue Buckingham. I hope that AG San Nicolas will heed Kilili’s request. It will be a good step towards restoring the publics’ faith in the Attorney General’s Office."

Variety was unable to get a comment from San Nicolas.

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