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EFE News Service

Bad Year In Court For Puerto Rican Pols

By Claudio Matos

December 12, 2002
Copyright © 2002 EFE News Service. All rights reserved. 

San Juan -The year drawing to a close saw several Puerto Rican politicians - Cabinet ministers, legislators and mayors - jailed or brought to trial on corruption charges, with the pro- statehood opposition harder hit but the governing party also tainted.

One of the biggest scandals involved former Education Minister Victor Fajardo, jailed on charges of diverting some $4 million in public funds to the pro- statehood New Progressive Party (PNP).

The PNP was in power for eight years prior to the November 2000 election.

Another politician facing possible imprisonment is the former speaker of Puerto Rico 's House of Representatives, Edison Misla Aldarondo, who faces extortion charges stemming from the privatization of a state-owned hospital.

Misla also is being tried on charges of rape, corruption of minors and possession of illegal drugs.

The allegations against Misla caused PNP lawmaker Jose "Nuno" Lopez to step down.

Although no charges have been filed against him, Lopez announced his resignation one day after testifying against the former House speaker.

PNP chairman Carlos Pesquera called publicly for the resignation of Lopez, who admitted in his testimony that he authorized the transfer of funds from a political committee's account to a private account.

In yet another corruption case, former PNP lawmaker Freddy Valentin plead guilty to bribery during his stint as head of the Senate Nominating Committee and was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

In her two years in office, Puerto Rico Gov. Sila Maria Calderon has fought a determined battle against corruption, with several members of her party also implicated in these scandals.

She represents the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which favors maintaining the island's status as a commonwealth of the United States.

PPD Sen. Maribel Rodriguez is being tried on charges of violating electoral law, while her former husband - Vega Alta Mayor Juan Cruzado Laureano - confronts allegations of influence-peddling and illegal appropriation of funds.

Meanwhile, PPD Rep. Alida Arizmendi is being investigated by the House Ethics Committee for possible violations of electoral laws and breach of ethics rules.

"From 1993 to 2000 there was a dramatic, quantitative and qualitative increase in corruption cases" in Puerto Rico , lawyer David Noriega told EFE.

Noriega is head of the Independent Citizens Committee to Evaluate Government Transactions, better known as the Blue Ribbon Committee.

According to the former pro-independence lawmaker, the recent cases stem from the privatization of state firms, which, in the absence of the necessary checks and balances, is a process that fosters corruption.

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