Puerto Rico legislature begins impeachment process against governor

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s legislature has begun an impeachment process against Governor Ricardo Rosselló after an investigation into leaked chat messages found crimes may have been committed during the conversations, a senior legislator said on Wednesday.

Rosselló, a first-term governor for the U.S. territory, has resisted calls to step down over a scandal local media have dubbed “Rickyleaks.” Media, including El Nuevo Día newspaper, cited unnamed sources as saying his resignation was imminent.

“The impeachment process has started,” said Johnny Mendez, speaker of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives and a member of Rossello’s party who was targeted in the chats.

An independent panel of lawyers commissioned by Mendez to investigate the offensive messages found four felonies and one misdemeanor may have been committed during the Telegram message group chats, one of the lawyers, Luis Rodríguez-Rivera, said in an email.

The governor, who is serving in his first elected office, is weighing his political future after almost two weeks of protests demanding his resignation, his spokesman Anthony Maceira said in a text message.

“Whichever decision he makes will, as always, be communicated officially,” Maceira said.

Journalists were awaiting a news conference at the governor’s mansion on Wednesday.

The island of 3.2 million people has been rocked by multiple crises in recent years, including a bankruptcy filing and a devastating hurricane in 2017 that killed about 3,000 people.

If Rosselló steps down, his replacement as the U.S. territory’s leader would likely be Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez, whom many protesters reject because of her ties to the 40-year-old governor.

Slideshow (9 Images)

A string of Rosselló’s closest aides have stepped down as prosecutors investigated the scandal. The governor’s chief of staff Ricardo Llerandi resigned on Tuesday, citing concerns for the safety of his family.

The scandal erupted at about the same time as federal investigators charged two former high-ranking Puerto Rico government officials with conspiracy.

The protests in the capital San Juan were spurred by the publication on July 13 of chat messages on the messaging app Telegram, in which Rosselló and aides used profane language to describe female politicians and gay Puerto Rican celebrities, including Ricky Martin.

Reporting by Nick Brown in San Juan; Additional reporting by Marco Bello and Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan, Karen Pierog in Chicago and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis

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