Judge finds cause for arrest in COVID-19 test kits case
By The Star Staff
San Juan Superior Court Judge Iraida Rodríguez Castro found cause Thursday for the arrest of Juan Maldonado de Jesús for his participation in the purchase of rapid COVID-19 tests at the beginning of the pandemic, according to press reports.
The government allegedly tried to buy coronavirus tests for nearly $40 million from inexperienced companies with ties to the New Progressive Party (NPP), according to the reports.
Maldonado de Jesús acknowledged in court that he forged a signature of his partner, the reports said.
The judge found cause for arrest against the former director of the Maritime Transport Authority, for the crimes of falsification, ideological falsification, transfer of false documents, attempted fraud, illegal intervention in government processes for events not related to that charge, but as a legal representative of the company Apex General Contractors, the reports said.
Also, the judge found cause in absentia against businessman Aaron Vick and ordered his arrest.
The men will face criminal charges for the million-dollar purchase of COVID-19 test kits.
“My client has not committed any crime. To be clear,” Maldonado de Jesús’ lawyer, Mayra López Mulero, said Thursday morning before the hearing, in response to questions from the press. “That is our position as defense lawyers, after knowing, in truth, more or less the framework of the facts in an emergency circumstance within the context of a civil legal business that occurred in a very particular circumstance.”
López Mulero added that a “day and a half” ago a document was issued by the Office of the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (OPFEI by its Spanish initials) in which it was announced that charges would be filed against Maldonado de Jesús, who is also an attorney.
She maintained that she did not know the specifics of the charges against Maldonado de Jesús, who in April of last year, when the story of the attempted purchase of test kits broke, was the attorney of Apex General Builders, which had pledged to deliver one million testing kits from an Australian company before the $38 million contract was canceled, according to an April 16, 2020 Associated Press report.
During the previous government administration, the Health Committee in the island House of Representatives, chaired at that time by NPP Rep. Juan Oscar Morales, investigated the process of failed purchases of COVID-19 tests.
The OPFEI announced Wednesday that criminal charges would be filed in relation to the failed purchase of the tests at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the OPFEI did not say against whom the charges would be filed.