The Office of the Public Auditor has filed seven criminal charges against former governor Benigno R. Fitial for allegedly conspiring with others to shield former attorney general Edward T. Buckingham from being served a penal summons in August last year.
OPA chief investigator Juan M. Santos said there is sufficient probable cause to issue a penal summons for Fitial on charges of conspiracy to commit theft of services, conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, obstruction of justice, and misconduct in public office, among others
Santos filed the affidavit in support of penal summons against Fitial on Thursday, March 7, in Superior Court.
Associate Judge David A. Wiseman issued that same day the penal summons that ordered the former governor to appear in court at 9am on the first Monday after receiving the service of summons to answer the allegations.
“If you do not appear, an application may be made for the issuance of a warrant for your arrest,” Wiseman stated in the summons.
The judge told Fitial he is entitled to a lawyer.
“If you are unable to afford a lawyer, you may be entitled to the services of an appointed lawyer at no expense to you. To apply for these services, please contact the Office of Probation at 236-9865/70,” Wiseman said.
Fitial is reportedly now in the Philippines.
OPA chief investigator Santos said that Fitial should be considered a flight risk.
He cited significant evidence of a coordinated effort to shield Buckingham from being served a penal summons and assisting him in his flight from the CNMI.
Santos said their investigation reveals that Fitial was fully aware of the existence of the penal summons for Buckingham. He cited text messages sent by Buckingham to Fitial's cell phone.
Santos said the former governor also interfered and obstructed justice by assisting Buckingham to evade and avoid receipt of the summons. He did this, Santos said, by providing his personal driver/bodyguard Jermaine W. Nekaifes and Department of Public Safety deputy commissioner Ambrosio Ogumoro to help Buckingham avoid the service of the summons.
He said that DPS detective Elias Q. Saralu and police officer Peter Camacho have stated that Fitial had questioned the police's presence at Aquarius Hotel and for assisting OPA.
At that time, Buckingham was checked in at the Aquarius Beach Tower Hotel.
Santos said that Fitial gave instructions to Saralu and Camacho not to investigate detective Alexander Sakisat.
Camacho was the one who pulled over Sakisat and asked what he was doing in Buckingham's car and with his luggage.
Santos said Fitial was in regular communication with Ogumoro as Buckingham was being escorted to the Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport.
An FBI special agent eventually managed to serve Buckingham with the penal summons shortly before the Delta Air Lines flight to Japan took off in the early morning hours of Aug. 4, 2012. Buckingham, who is reportedly in the U.S. mainland, has been declared a fugitive from justice.
On Wednesday last week, OPA investigators and police officers arrested Nekaifes, Commonwealth Ports Authority police chief Jordan Kosam, and CPA police Capt. Juan Rebuenog for their alleged participation in the effort to shield Buckingham from being served the summons. The three were released after posting $500 bail each.