Independent and alternative media journalists filed a judicial Writ of Mandamus to request the immediate release of the six (6) referrals that the Puerto Rico Department of Justice (PRDOJ) delivered to the Panel Office on the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (OPFEI, Spanish acronym) involving the Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, Senator Evelyn Vázquez and other officials who are or were part of this administration.
This extraordinary petition is in response to the fact that the PRDOJ has refused to deliver the six referrals, of which one of these was leaked to news outlets in recent days. In this referral, the existence of criminal charges against the governor is confirmed. The information leak has had the effect of creating an atmosphere of confusion in the public opinion, since the claims of the PRDOJ and the OPFEI have been repeated in multiple spaces to grant a cloak of secrecy to documents with a presumption of total publicity, based on the Constitution of Puerto Rico and the current legal order.
The referrals, which were finally delivered on July 7, 2020, are not part of the evidence gathered by the PRDOJ, which is confidential. Through the lawsuit, the final conclusions are being requested, not the private information that led to the delivery of the investigations carried out by the law and order agency. The ongoing investigation by the OPFEI is also not requested, since it has not commenced.
“Given the high public interest involved in this controversy, an agile and quick solution is required because the people’s right to know the truth is at stake,” said attorney Edgar Villanueva Rivera in the claim.
The mandamus petition was filed before the Court of First Instance in San Juan by the digital media outlet NUESTRO, represented by journalist Rafelli González, and Sandra Rodríguez Cotto, from the radio program and blog “En Blanco y Negro con Sandra.”
On July 7, these journalists, alongside with Emmanuel Estrada López from the alternative media ONCE, requested the PRDOJ referrals under Article 5 of Act 141-2019, which is the “Transparency Law and Expedited Procedure for Access to Public Information”.
On January 27, the then Secretary of Justice, Denisse Longo Quiñones notified OPFEI that she was evaluating a complaint filed about public officials. Then, on March 11, Longo Quiñones sent a communication informing the OPFEI that he had referred a complaint to the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Division, with instructions that an investigation be carried out against Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, among other officials.
Then, on July 6, an agent from the Dept. of Justice arrived to the OPFEI to file six referrals along with the documentation relevant to their investigations, including at least one referral to the Governor.
The then Interim Secretary of Justice stated that she had ordered the removal of the referrals before they were formally presented to the OPFEI. As a consequence of these events, on the same date of July 6, 2020, journalists sent the formal request for information under Article 7 of Act 141-2019.
Specifically, the journalists requested a copy of: (1) the final report on the investigation of the Puerto Rico Department of Justice of the mismanagement of supplies in warehouse in Ponce and (2) Final reports on 5 investigations delegated to the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico.
On July 7, 2020, the OPFEI issued a press release titled “OPFEI PANEL ISSUES ENERGETIC RESOLUTION REQUIRING JUSTICE DELIVERY OF RECORDS” in which the resolution of this office is published, requesting the Dept. of Justice to deliver the “six reports whose physical delivery was aborted” on July 6, 2020.
In their press release “the OPFEI members established that after the preliminary investigation and countersigned by the Secretary of Justice, the only legal course of action was to deliver them without further delay.” Later that same day, the six (6) PRDOJ’s reports were formally presented to the OPFEI, pending delivery of the boxes with the related evidence for said investigations between July 8 to 13, 2020.
On July 20, 2020, 10 days after the request was issued, only a formal response was received from the PRDOJ through an email addressed to the petitioners. However, the request was expressly denied by the Dept. of Justice. OPFEI tacitly denied the request by not replying within the 10-day period established by law.
The PRDOJ alleged in their response that the reports “are of confidential matter” and “cannot be subject to inspection, examination, or disclosure while conducting the investigation.” However, the reports requested are the product of the investigation carried out and completed by the Dept. of Justice.
On July 21, one leaked referral was received by some press members. However, independent journalists demanded the official information about this referral as well as the five remaining investigations, because the citizens have the right to know the full truth about the events, which lacerates the integrity of their government.