CNMI COOPERATING WITH FEDERAL ABRAMOFF PROBE

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By Agnes Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 6) – The administration of Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Juan Babauta has been fully cooperating with the U.S. federal government on the fraud case against former Washington, D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the outgoing governor said yesterday.

Gov. Babauta said his office had already responded to various requests for information concerning Abramoff's transactions with the CNMI government between 1994 and 2001.

Pursuant to the CNMI's Open Government Act, federal agencies involved in Abramoff's investigation have been furnished copies of contracts, e-mails, and similar documents.

"The Jack Abramoff investigation is obviously turning in the direction of the CNMI. The only thing that I could do is continue to cooperate with the investigation, whether it be responding to subpoenas or complying with requests for information under the Open Government Act," said Babauta, who has only three days left in his term.

"I just want to share that the people of the CNMI have the right to know what's going on and that this government is not going to be hiding anything and we are making everything available to the federal government," he added.

On Tuesday, Abramoff entered a guilty plea in a case alleging conspiracy to buy influence in Washington, D.C.

The plea, it is believed, may result in an expanded investigation that could implicate former and current CNMI government officials.

From 1994 to 2001, the Commonwealth government paid at least $11 million to Abramoff-associated lobbying firms, in an attempt to keep the local government's control over wage rates and immigration.

Gov.-elect Benigno R. Fitial has also been linked to the lobbying scandal. He is believed to have received assistance from Abramoff in his bid to become speaker of the 12th CNMI House of Representatives in 2000. He has issued a public statement calling Abramoff and former U.S. minority leader Tom DeLay, who is also involved in Abramoff's corruption case, his "friends."

January 6, 2006

Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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