Search warrant issued against Puerto Rico’s governor

People turned out en masse in San Juan, Puerto Rico on July 22, 2019. (AFP pic)

MIAMI: Authorities in Puerto Rico have issued a search warrant against the US territory’s governor and 11 other men who exchanged derogatory chat messages mocking gays, hurricane victims and others, officials said Tuesday – the latest twist in a scandal engulfing the island’s leadership.

The release of those chats two weeks ago helped trigger huge street demonstrations demanding the resignation of Governor Ricardo Rossello, who has refused to step down as leader of the Caribbean island.

The search warrant was issued Monday, said Kelvin Carrasco of the Puerto Rico Justice Department.

Carrasco declined to say if the warrant has been carried out yet or what premises are named in it, only saying the probe is underway.

The newspaper El Nuevo Dia reported that the 12 men involved in the chat case have been ordered to surrender their cell phones. The paper quoted the island’s justice department.

At least one of these officials or former officials has refused, the paper said.

Rossello is facing a full-blown political crisis over the chat scandal and corruption cases involving money that was supposed to help victims of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017 and killed nearly 3,000 people.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of San Juan Monday in the largest protest yet, demanding that Rossello step down. It lasted into the night.

At a smaller rally late Monday in front of the governor’s residence, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of hundreds.

Rossello said Sunday he would not seek re-election next year and would step down as leader of his party, but he refused to immediately resign.

On Tuesday, he again refused to step down but acknowledged: “The people are speaking and it’s up to me to listen.”

He added that he would focus on running Puerto Rico and would not answer any more questions on the scandal.