Attorney General Joey Patrick San Nicolas assured lawmakers last week that his office “will not shy away from the issue” of former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham's extradition, adding that “no criminal defendant should be allowed to evade justice, no one.”
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial remains tightlipped about the issue as of Friday, while Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos urged the public to “chill out a little bit,” that “things will happen,” and that there's no need for the public to raise funds to bring the former AG back.
Fitial dodged reporters' questions Friday whether he would sign off on a recommendation from the Office of the Attorney General, if any, to bring back Buckingham to the CNMI to answer criminal charges filed against him by the Office of the Public Auditor. The governor came back Thursday from the Philippines where his wife, Josie, is recuperating after a surgery, and had yet to receive full briefing by Friday noon on the extradition matter.
Fitial and Buckingham signed a no-bid, $190.8-million diesel power purchase agreement with Saipan Development LLC a day before the former AG left the CNMI initially to take his 30-day leave before resigning from his post.
San Nicolas's response letter, a copy of which was obtained by Saipan Tribune on Friday, thanked Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (IR-Saipan), House minority leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), and Rep. Ray Tebuteb (IR-Saipan) for their joint letter regarding Buckingham.
“Rest assured that the Office of the Attorney General will not shy away from the issue of former AG Buckingham's extradition.I agree that no criminal defendant should be allowed to evade justice, no one,” San Nicolas told the lawmakers.
Tebuteb, when asked for comment yesterday, said he's thankful for the AG's response to their joint letter and is looking forward to San Nicolas' formal request letter to U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco to initiate the extradition process.
Private citizens and individual government officials, including Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) and Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP), separately said last week that they will donate funds to help cover the cost of extraditing Buckingham to the CNMI, if the administration is worried about the cost of the process.
Inos, in an interview on Friday, asked the public to “chill out a little bit.”
“Things will happen. We got priorities. We're working on a double murder right now and there are issues we're still working on. Mr. Buckingham, we'll get to him,” Inos said in an interview after witnessing Bridge Capital LLC's donations to 21 charitable groups and schools.
Inos pointed out that, while cost is a factor, should the extradition be pursued, it's “not going to be the deciding factor on this matter.” He said the administration has yet to determine how much such a process would cost.
“We don't have any money set aside for that kind of stuff but that doesn't mean we can't find money for that,” he said.
Inos said the decision to push the extradition or apprehension is “more of a legal policy issue and we have not come to that point as yet, at least from my standpoint.”
“We don't know how much it's going to cost but again it's not going to be the overriding reason to move forward or not to move forward,” he said, adding that he has yet to get anything from the OAG “as to procedure, legality, the justification and so forth.”
“So we will wait,” he added.
Delegate Sablan had said that the U.S. Department of Justice is willing to pursue Buckingham but the CNMI has to initiate the process to extradite him. He said a request from San Nicolas to U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco “would be necessary to initiate Mr. Buckingham's capture.”
Buckingham is facing criminal charges in connection with his alleged hosting of a political campaign in 2010 for the governor's delegate candidate, obstruction of justice in August 2012 when he allegedly used police and ports police officers to shield him from being served a penal summons, and approval of a sole-source ARRA management contract, among other things.