By Jacob Nakamura
(Tumon, Guam) The United States Attorney is seeking indictments in the public corruption case against Gov. Ralph Torres, the casino, and others. A consultant hired by the Governor's Office to monitor the progress of the construction of the casino, but was later stripped of all authority, is testifying today in the public corruption case against Mr. Torres and Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC.
The Grand Jury has been in session since this morning.
The consultant, James Chua of Pacific Century Inc., was hired according to the terms of the original Casino Licensing Agreement between the government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and IPI. The original CLA, executed August 12, 2014, established the Development Plan Advisory Committee (DPAC) to monitor the construction progress and licensing process on behalf of the CNMI.
Section 13 of the Best Sunshine Casino License original CLA states, in part:
"In order to provide an established structure for: ongoing communication between Licensee and the Commonwealth, implementation of Licensee Development Proposal Requirements, and Implementation Schedules, the Parties shall establish a Development Plan Advisory Committee (DPAC")."
The original section goes on to state that the DPAC will consists of two members:
An architect or engineer representative or firm that will represent the interests of the casino; and
"a firm with extensive experience in multiple aspects of integrated resort development, which may include the fields of architecture, engineering, finance, design and planning, representing the interests of the Commonwealth and REPORTING TO THE GOVERNOR." (emphasis added)
The Commonwealth representative was selected using "the competitive sealed proposal process established in the Commonwealth procurement regulations.
Shortly after the CLA was executed, the Governor's Office issued a request for proposals (RFP) and hired Mr. Chua's firm, PCI, to monitor the construction progress and licensing process and to report findings to the governor.
That's exactly what he did.
For years, Mr. Chua was advising Gov. Torres and the Commonwealth government on violations of the CLA with regard to the construction progress and licensing. The original licensing agreement said that IPI was to finish Phase 1 construction of its Garapan facility in December of 2018.
In 2017, IPI realized it would not finish the project in time and requested an amendment to the CLA to extend the deadline to December 2020.
Mr. Torres did just that.
On July 31, 2017, Mr. Torres and CNMI Lottery Commission chairman and current Secretary of Commerce Mark Rabauliman signed CLA Amendment #5, together with IPI Senior Vice President Viola Alepuyo and a representative signing for Attorney General Edward Manibusan, Lillian Tenorio.
But that amendment did more than just extend the deadline for IPI to finish construction. It also removed oversight authority from the DPAC and Mr. Chua's PCI.
The original CLA mandated that:
"The Initial Gaming Facility shall have a minimum of two hundred and fifty (250) rooms and shall be submitted to the Development Plan Review Committee, as provided for in section 13 (below), to assure compliance with this License Agreement."
As the construction was ongoing and Mr. Chua was pointing out to the governor the violations of the CLA, Mr. Torres removed the consultant from any oversight.
CLA Amendment #5 now reads:
"The Initial Gaming Facility shall have a minimum of two hundred and fifty (250) rooms."
James Chua is appearing before the Grand Jury today and most likely will testify regarding his interactions with Mr. Torres, the casino and lottery commissions, and IPI on behalf of the DPAC.