Man arrested in Puerto Rico government chat scandal

MIAMI (AFP) – The FBI arrested a man on Wednesday for allegedly trying to extort USD300,000 from government officials in Puerto Rico to prevent the release of private messages that later pushed the island’s governor to resign, authorities said.

The governor, Ricardo Rossello, stepped down in 2019 after hundreds of pages of incendiary messages on the app Telegram were leaked.

Sixto Jorge Diaz Colon, 52, faces federal charges including extortion and obstruction of justice for allegedly demanding government contracts in exchange for keeping secret the chats that sparked protests in the United States (US) Caribbean territory two years ago.

“Defendant Sixto Jorge Diaz Colon threatened and attempted to extort government officials for USD300,000 and the awarding of government contracts,” said Puerto Rico District US Attorney W Stephen Muldrow.

Diaz Colon “threatened to use his influence as a member of the media and on behalf of two public relations firms to destroy the reputations of public officials if they didn’t comply with his requests”, the prosecution said in a statement.

According to the indictment, Diaz Colon, who worked for the Spanish Broadcasting System (SBS) conglomerate, told then-public affairs secretary Anthony Maceira in June 2019 that his contact had “overwhelming evidence to (damage) this Administration, starting with… (Rossello)”.

He then allegedly contacted Maceira for government contracts.

Weeks later, on July 8, local media released hundreds of pages of the explosive messages, in which Rossello and associates made fun of women, victims of Hurricane Maria in 2017, journalists and other politicians.