U.S. CONGRESSMAN PUSHES FOR NEW ABRAMOFF PROBE

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By Gemma Q. Cassas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, March 31) – A senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives is again urging the U.S. Department of Justice to assign a special prosecutor in the Northern Mariana Islands to investigate disgraced Washington, D.C., lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s activities in the area.

Abramoff has been sentenced to five years and 10 months in a federal prison.

The administration of Gov. Benigno R. Fitial, who called the lobbyist the "protector" of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and his "close friend," said it has nothing to fear from Abramoff’s conviction.

"To date, Mr. Abramoff’s criminal charges or past activities have not implicated any Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands public official and we do not expect any current or former ranking member of our government to be charged with any federal crime in connection with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’s past connection with Mr. Abramoff," Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. told Variety.

"Former Governors Froilan C. Tenorio and Pedro P. Tenorio acted in good faith when they sought representation in Washington, D.C.," he added.

George Miller, D-California, said complete justice will not be served until all of Abramoff’s activities and connections are exposed and "all of his partners-in-crime are punished."

"Abramoff’s shady activities span from the Florida casino deal all the way to the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean, where for years Abramoff successfully lobbied Tom DeLay and the Republican House of Representatives to protect a cruel system of human trafficking and sweatshop labor," the congressman said in a statement e-mailed to Variety.

"Most importantly, the American people will not have justice until Congress changes the way it does business. Congress should work for all Americans and not just the wealthy special interests represented by well-connected lobbyists like Abramoff," he added.

Reyes reiterated that Abramoff’s representation of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands between 1994 and 2001 was necessary because the issues of concern to the islands were not taken seriously in Washington, D.C.

"We do not even have a nonvoting delegate in the U.S. Congress. We do not have representation with the U.S. government. That was why our government elected to hire Mr. Abramoff when our Covenant agreement with the United States was under heavy assault from special interest groups abroad. These included U.S. protectionists and rival apparel manufacturers in the U.S.," said Reyes.

Abramoff’s main mission for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands was to block legislation federalizing the islands’ immigration and minimum wage laws, which the garment industry opposed and continues to oppose.

Days before Abramoff was sentenced, Fitial joined a group of more than 260 prominent persons throughout the U.S. who lobbied a federal judge on behalf of the once powerful deal broker in Washington, D.C.

Reyes said the governor’s statement was written as a personal friend of Abramoff and does not in any way affect the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ earlier position to seek restitution from his former lobby firms.

He added that Attorney General Matthew Gregory continues to represent the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in the ongoing negotiation with Abramoff’s former lobbying firm, Preston Gates, for a possible restitution of payments made to it.

March 31, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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