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Judge Rules Puerto Rico Can't Block Wal-Mart Deal…SIP To Hear Journalist’s Testimony In Flag Case…Fajardo Gets Maximum Sentence…EPA Promises Vieques Cleanup…INS To Register Foreigners From 18 Countries… Blue Ribbon To Investigate Superaqueduct

Judge Rules Puerto Rico Can't Block Wal-Mart Deal

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

December 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

[SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A federal judge on Thursday upheld an order preventing the U.S. territory's government from blocking Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s acquisition of a local supermarket chain.]

U.S. District Court Judge Juan Perez Gimenez dismissed Thursday morning the Justice Department’s motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction a civil action filed by Wal-Mart against Justice Secretary Anabelle Rodriguez. It also began a full hearing to turn a preliminary injunction for constitutional violations of civil rights into a permanent one.

With the permanent injunction, Wal-Mart seeks to prevent Rodriguez from initiating or continuing any action in the Commonwealth court system to prevent the Wal-Mart/Amigo merger.

Wal-Mart, through its legal team from McConnel & Valdes, argued that Rodriguez violated their constitutional rights and abused her power by imposing the conditions of purchasing agricultural products and retaining the employees in order to approve the merge.

The Department of Justice, through Rodriguez’ representation attorney Harry Anduze, argued that it was not imposing any unconstitutional condition, as any harm that might be caused to Wal-Mart by the condition is secondary to the well being of the public interest when establishing the Anti-Monopoly Law.

Anduze also argued that Gimenez’s court does not have any jurisdiction in the case when one already exists in local court.

Wal-Mart attorneys argued that Rodriguez filed the case in local court after they had already filed the case in federal court.

Perez Gimenez agreed with Wal-Mart.

Overwhelming concern, including that of outgoing Economic Development Secretary Ramon Cantero Frau, has grown across the island over the merger, as the possibility of a 50% control of the market by Wal-Mart could result in the closing of small and medium business owners and therefore an increase in unemployment.

Wal-Mart, however, has denied that the transaction could adversely affect the island’s economy.

Journalists Summoned To Appear Before The SIP

December 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) — Journalists Annette Alvarez, of Notiseis, and Marcos Perez, from the weekly newspaper Claridad will have to testify before Special Independent Prosecutor (SIP) who is investigating the June 20 incident at the Women’s Advocate Office for which New Progressive Party (NPP) leaders are accused of inciting a riot.

The journalists were summoned by Superior Court Judge Carmen Dolores Ruiz, who responded to a motion filed by SIP Ruben Guzman, who is in charge of the investigation, according to published reports.

The Puerto Rican Journalists Association (ASPPRO by its Spanish acronym) filed a motion for the annulment of the summons presented to the journalists and that of photojournalists from Channel 6 Jorge Negron, who was also summoned by the SIP, but the judge ordered their appearance.

The ASSPPRO maintains that the summons are inadmissible because there are dozens of witnesses who could offer what the SIP pretends to request from the reporters and the photojournalist.

On the other hand, former legislator Leonides Diaz’ defense filed an urgent motion asking the court for the public prosecution to provide them with a copy of the edited video obtained from Notiseis, which was used in the preliminary hearing.

NPP President Carlos Pesquera’s attorney requested the public prosecution to hand in all evidence that might be favorable for his client, in reference to the interview with Puerto Rico Police Lieutenant Melquiades Alvarez, whose testimony was disregarded by the prosecution.

Fajardo, Cruz Mercado Sentenced To Maximum Penalties

By Proviana Colon Diaz of WOW News

December 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Hector Laffitte described co-defendants Education Secretary Victor Fajardo and Deputy Education Secretary Jose Omar Cruz Mercado as "partners in crime" and sentenced them Wednesday to the maximum penalty established in the guidelines.

Fajardo was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in jail, after which he will have to serve three years of probation. He will have to repay $4.3 million, the entire amount of federal funds diverted in the fraud scheme, out of which he has already repaid $2.2 million.

Cruz Mercado was sentenced to 11 years in prison, on top of which he will have to serve three years of probation. He too will have to repay $600,000 in federal funds.

Laffitte, who scheduled one sentence hearing after the other, went so far as to describe the defendants as "mafiosos" and noted several times that he would not follow any agreement as the pair’s perjury had resulted in the dismissal of all charges against 10 other co-defendants who had not pleaded guilty in the case.

He imposed a penalty on Cruz Mercado as severe as he had done in Fajardo’s case.

"What is applicable to Fajardo is also applicable to this convict. They are partners in crime," Laffitte said.

Cruz Mercado, who had been out on parole pending his sentence, was immediately taken into custody and will now exchange his gray suit for the khaki colored inmate uniform that his friend Fajardo has been wearing for the past seven weeks, after his parole rights were revoked for committing perjury while testifying in the case against three co-defendants.

Fajardo, who served as head of the Education Department from 1994 to 2000 under Gov. Pedro Rossello’s administration, pleaded guilty in February to federal corruption charges.

Prior to listening to his sentence Wednesday, Fajardo addressed the court and affirmed his decision to continue cooperating with authorities if they still wanted him to. He added that it was never his intention to commit perjury as he had kept his word to cooperate with authorities at all times.

"Knowing that I was a witness for the prosecution, I gave it all because I had nothing to gain or lose by coming here to lie," Fajardo said.

He argued that while there were 34 other witnesses in the case, the prosecution, while identifying him as the star witness, failed to prepare him as such.

"I can say that my preparation for cross interrogation was not the best," Fajardo said.

The judge then interrupted him.

"Are you now blaming the government?" Laffitte said.

To which the defendant responded: "No, I’m just expressing myself."

Cruz Mercado apologized to his former teacher’s colleagues, to the public service employees, the children, and his family.

"I committed mistakes, for which I am now ashamed and will be, all of my life. I ask forgiveness from my fellow teachers, public service employees, and the Education Department, and more importantly, the students of Puerto Rico. Most importantly, I ask forgiveness from my wife and two daughters because their anguish is part of my punishment," Cruz said.

Laffitte then went on to say that both defendants acted as mafiosos.

The judge, however, agreed to the petition by the defendants’ attorneys to leave the convicts for six months at the Federal Detention Center in Guaynabo before transferring them to another jurisdiction while the local authorities concluded their case.

EPA Administrator: Vieques Training Land Will Be Cleaned

By Melissa B. Gonzalez Valentin of WOW News

December 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 WOW NEWS. All rights reserved.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman said the federal agency will make sure that the U.S. Department of Defense complies with federal environmental laws that require that the land used in Vieques for military training be thoroughly cleaned once the U.S. Navy withdraws from the island municipality.

"Who and how they will be cleaned is something that has yet to be decided, but the important thing is that they will be cleaned up," said Gov. Sila Calderon on Wednesday.

The Navy is expected to withdraw from Vieques in May 2003. Although President George W. Bush has said the deadline would be met, no written statements have been issued on the matter.

The governor said Whitman will be on the island for two days during which she will be discussing several issues, including the development of the San Juan estuary and the Cantera Peninsula.

Foreigners From 18 Countries To Undergo Stricter Scrutiny

December 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – Foreigners from 18 countries who arrive in Puerto Rico as tourists, students, or for any other temporary reason will be obliged to register in a special registry, announced Ivan Ortiz Delgado, public relations officer of the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) in San Juan.

Travelers will be submitted to a special and rigorous search, aimed at identifying possible links with terrorists, according to published reports.

According to the official, males older than 16 from Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria who arrived on the island or in any other U.S. territory on or before Sept. 10 have to go to the INS before Dec. 16.

Residents of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrein, Eritrea, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, North Korea, Oman, Quatar, Somalia, Tunisia, Arab, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen who arrived in or before October have until Jan. 10 to register.

Ortiz Delgado warned that those who fail to comply with the requirement would be deported from the United States and any other attempt to visit the United States would be banned.

Blue Ribbon To Investigate Superaqueduct Project

December 11, 2002
Copyright © 2002 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN (AP) – The Independent Citizens Commission for the Evaluation of Government Transactions, also known as the Blue Ribbon Committee, has ordered the Government Development Bank (GDB) to turn over all the documents it has regarding the superaqueduct project.

However, David Noriega, chairman of the committee, said in published reports that this does not necessarily mean the superaqueduct transaction of over $500 million is under investigation.

The same information was requested by a federal grand jury, whose investigation has been going on for more than a year and is allegedly aimed at executives of the New Progressive Party and three project contractors.

GDB President Hector Mendez said he turned over the information requested by the Blue Ribbon Committee inside sealed boxes. However, he didn’t say how many boxes there were or what they contained.

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