By Jacob Nakamura
(Tumon, Guam) Some of the most politically-connected Saipan and Guam companies, including targets of federal investigations and federal grand jury subpoenas, provided most of the money Gov. Ralph Torres used to win his 2018 election as governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Mr. Torres's Campaign Financial Disclosure filed with the CNMI Office of the Public Auditor reveals that the governor and his runningmate, Lt. Gov. Arnold Palacios, raised $670,321.44 even during the era of austerity and economic hardship facing the people of the NMI.
Of that amount, the governor's campaign spent $299,737.31. More than half of that amount came from the CNMI's burgeoning casino industry and a select few of the biggest and most influential corporations in the Marianas.
More than $153,000 in campaign money came from just 28 companies in a single fundraiser held December 29, 2017. Casino company Tinian Entertainment Co. donated $20,000. Bridge Capital, LLC and Bridge Investment Group, LLC each donated $10,000. Marianas Consultancy Services, LLC, owned by embattled Torres associate Alfred Yue, gave $10,000 to Mr. Torres's campaign.
Mr. Yue's activities have been under federation investigation for suspicion of the funneling of illegal Chinese money into federal election campaigns. Marianas Consultancy's transactions with target casino company Imperial Pacific International (CNMI), LLC have been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury.
Rounding out the list of donors who made no less than $5,000 in aggregate contributions to the Torres-Palacios 2018 campaign are several companies that also do business with the government of the CNMI as vendors, and that have sought consideration regarding a slew of regulatory requests and transactions.
IPI (CNMI), LLC's parent company, Bermuda-based Imperial Pacific International, LLC, donated $10,000. Imperial Pacific International, LLC is a shell company that actually is owned by a Hong Kong company owned by Chinese national and billionaire Ciu Li Jie.
It is against federal law to receive campaign contributions from foreigners. While the law does not distinguish between countries, the FBI has been particularly interested in Russian and Chinese money flowing into federal election campaigns.
Imperial Pacific International, LLC's sponsorship of a January 20, 2017 inaugural ball fundraiser for President Trump's re-election campaign has been the subject of an FBI investigation and international media scrutiny because of close ties linked to the Communist Party of China.
Mr. Torres was the co-chairman of the group that facilitated fundraising activities that funneled Chinese foreign money through IPI, LLC toward Mr. Trump's election campaign.
But the casinos weren't the only ones getting in on the action. The who's who of NMI money were all too willing to invest in Mr. Torres's gubernatorial election. Pacific Islands Club donated a Magellan lunch for two, 10 waterpark passes for two, and a one night room stay valued in total at $783.
Duty Free Shoppers Saipan donated a $750 Tissot Men's Watch, a $1,150 Rado Women's watch, a $1,295 Burberry purse, and a $325 Montblanc Pen and Card Casing.
The campaign received a $700 five-piece dining set from YCO Corporation, and even a 12K BTU 21 SEER DC AC inverter split type aircon from Chong's Corporation. Must be nice.
The who's who of Guam also put their two cents into the CNMI's gubernatorial elections. Actually, they put in $19,500 in one night during a June 2018 fundraiser held on Guam. The top donor? Then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lourdes Leon Guerrero gave Mr. Torres $2,000. Businesswoman Fe Ovales, businessman Carlos Camacho, Micronesia Renewable Energy, Senty Hospitality Corp, Bob Jones, Kloppenburg Ent., and attorney Michael Gatewood each gave $1,000 to Mr. Torres's campaign. Twenty one other Guam residents and businesses each gave $500 a piece.
In an August 2018 fundraiser, IPI (CNMI), LLC legal counsel and former Guam chief prosecutor Phil Tydingco donated $1,000 to the campaign. Bridge Capital gave him $500, and so did Torres friend and associate Ron Li Anderson. Mr. Anderson, like Mr. Yue, is under federal investigation for their links between the Trump campaign and Chinese money illegally flowing into it.
The embattled casino industry on Guam also is connected to Mr. Torres's political journey. Guam Music, Inc. donated $2,500 to his campaign.