By Jacob Nakamura
(Susupe, Saipan) Ralph Torres and his brothers are embroiled in a major federal investigation that links the Torres's to a series of alleged corrupt acts and the funneling of Chinese money to interfere with U.S. elections through Saipan's casino.
Mr. Torres is the governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. His brothers run Torres Brothers, LLC. All of them and all but one of their wives are the subjects of a Federal Bureau of Investigation sweep of Saipan for allegations of public corruption, racketeering, fraud, Hobbs Act violations, and foreign interference in U.S. elections. This is according to public records of just one of several federal raids at different places in Saipan: the raid of the Imperial Pacific International (CNMI), LLC offices. Mr. Torres's home and the CNMI Governor's Office also were raided.
Among hundreds of boxes of documents, scores of hard drives, thumb drives, ledgers, journals, and cellular phones confiscated by federal agents during the raid into IPI are documents and receipts of land transactions and board meeting minutes seized by the FBI.
At issue is the role Mr. Torres and his brothers, wife, and sisters-in-law played in the concealment of transactions, kickbacks to public officials, questioned flow of billions of dollars through the Saipan casino, the operation of foreign interests in Saipan through shell companies, and the laundering of foreign money to influence the U.S. Presidential election.
According to the CNMI's constitution, under a section titled Alienation of Land, foreigners cannot own property in the NMI. IPI (CNMI), LLC, which on paper owns the casino in operation in Saipan, is owned and operated as a corporation with one sole member: former Guam senator Carmen Fernandez, who is of Chamorro descent and may be qualified under the alienation section as an NMI Chamorro. The fact of her sole membership appears in a federal tax lien earlier this year that was filed by the Internal Revenue Service against IPI on the same day that a grand jury began in the U.S. District Court of the NMI. Within days, tax liens were placed against one of the governor's brothers and his wife. Federal warrants and cases were issued, filed, and sealed during the same time frame.
However, a closer look at IPI (CNMI), LLC, reveals that the company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Imperial Pacific International Holdings, a Hong Kong-based company incorporated in the Bahamas. Inventive Star Limited, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands is the ultimate holding company for Imperial Pacific International Holdings; meaning, that is the company that actually owns the Saipan casino.
A billionaire Chinese woman named Cui Li Jie is the ultimate controlling party. Ms. Jie is listed in Forbes magazine for her wealth.
According to a July 10, 2019 public announcement by Ms. Jie in Hong Kong, the corporate owners of the Saipan casino purchased half the interest of American Sinopan LLC, which owns two large parcels of Saipan land, one of which is the future site of the Casha Resort with its planned 1,700 rooms that are under construction now.
"In view of the location and the uses of the lands under the Target Company, the Directors consider that the acquisition of the Target Company is in line with the business development strategy and plans of the Group," Ms. Jie stated in the public announcement in Hong Kong related to CNMI business and property.
The lands were acquired for US $23,653,131.69.
Although CNMI law requires 100 percent of the members of the board of any corporation owning land in Saipan to be of NMI Chamorro or Carolinian descent, none of the board members qualify under the law.
How the company was allowed to skirt CNMI law is under question. However, one fact from the IPI (CNMI), LLC raid is telling. The only sister-in-law of Gov. Torres who was not named in the search warrant as being a target of the investigation is Irene Tudela Torres, married to Gov. Torres's brother Jack, and who is the sister of CNMI first lady Diane Tudela Torres. Irene Torres is the director of the Commonwealth Homestead division of the Department of Public Lands. According to FBI property receipts of the items taken during the IPI raid are land transactions and receipts and ledgers related to land transactions.
Mr. Torres has been in the company of some very powerful friends, as well, whose parts in this inquiry could ignite an international storm of questions. For instance, of the seven members of the IPI Holdings Limited board of directors, only one is not Chinese: Robert James Woolsey.
The national and international media and community may be as keen to that name as the people of the Marianas are to the intrigue of this story. Mr. Woolsey was the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency under former President Bill Clinton.
Among the crimes being contemplated by the FBI investigation is violation of the federal prohibition against foreign money funding United States elections.
Mr. Torres set off a firestorm of interest by investigators back in January 2017, when Bloomberg broke the story of his involvement in the raising of funds from Chinese foreign nationals that could not be tracked toward President Trump's re-election campaign, which is next year.
Mr. Trump is enduring impeachment proceedings now in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Also involved in the Saipan casino? Former FBI director Louis Freeh and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell are members of an advisory committee that provide "strategic and tactical advice" on the company's business and government relations.
Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who also was the longtime chairman of the Republican National Committee, also is a member of that committee.
In 2017, its chairman was Mark Brown - the man who used to run Mr. Trump's Atlantic City casinos.
The revelations so far into this massive federal corruption case in the CNMI may only be the tip of the iceberg. Only time will tell how far things go, and who is the first to be announced in the indictments certain to come.