03/31/14 (written by cmolzahn) — Citing allegations of embezzlement and money laundering, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) has asked Interpol to issue a Red Notice to member countries, seeking the location and arrest of Gastón Azcárraga Andrade, former owner and president of the airline Mexicana de Aviación, which had controlled as much as 30% of the domestic Mexican air travel market before filing for bankruptcy and ceasing operations in 2010, leaving thousands of current employees without a salary, and former employees with the future of their pensions very much in question.
Azcárraga was at the helm of the airline when the bankruptcy was announced, and the following year his company, Grupo Posadas, sold its shares to Tenedora K, a Mexican investment firm that has attempted to find a viable means of resuming operations for the airline as recently as November 2013, but had repeated difficulties reaching agreements with Mexicana’s current and retired workers. Azcárraga has since left behind Grupo Posadas. Azcárraga acquired Mexicana in 2005, when, by most accounts, it was in good financial health. Azcárraga’s whereabouts are unknown, though it is believed that he is currently outside of Mexico.
President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed early in his presidency to bring the mismanagement of Mexicana de Aviación to light. On February 19, the PGR announced that an arrest order had been issued for Azcárraga for alleged acts of money laundering. The investigation began as an inquiry into allegations of poor management of the airline by Azcárraga, who left behind a debt of over $2 billion (USD). During the investigation, though, the PGR reports that evidence of use of illicit funds surfaced. Media sources are reporting the amount allegedly laundered by Azcárraga as $198 million pesos (just over $15 million USD).
Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam met with members of the pilots and flight attendants unions (Asociación Sindical de Pilotos Aviadores, ASPA; and Asociación Sindical de Sobrecargos de Aviación de México, ASSA, respectively) who had gathered outside the offices of the PGR to show their support for the arrest warrant against Azcárraga. The unions have been working since the airline’s collapse in 2010 to secure lost wages and pensions for current and former Mexicana workers, and recent efforts have been focused on Mexicana-MRO, Mexicana de Aviación’s maintenance branch, and the only division of the airline that is still functioning.
For his part, Azcárraga has requested an amparo, or a constitutional protection against arrest and imprisonment. A judge has set a date of April 14 to determine Azcárraga’s legal status.