United States Will Drop Charges against Former Mexican Defense Minister Cienfuegos

Photo: Bill Robles, Associated Press

11/18/20 (written by rkuckertz) – In an abrupt and unexpected reversal, the United States Department of Justice has announced that it will drop all drug trafficking and money laundering charges against Former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. The announcement came as a shock after a months-long investigation led to the secret indictment and subsequent arrest of Cienfuegos by U.S. officials.

The former defense minister (2012-2018) was arrested in Los Angeles on October 15, 2020 after he was indicted on various drug trafficking and money laundering counts, including conspiracy to import and distribute heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. The arrest shocked the Mexican public, as Cienfuegos is the first high-ranking Mexican military official to be arrested in the United States in connection with organized crime. The evidence against him pointed to his involvement with the H-2 cartel in exchange for bribes. Blackberry messages obtained by U.S. investigators detailed these alleged crimes, which included facilitating drug shipments into the United States and introducing cartel members to officials willing to accept bribes. Following his arrest, the former security official was transferred to a New York detention facility where he awaited trial in New York’s Eastern District.

However, in a joint statement released on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr and his Mexican counterpart, Alejandro Gertz Manero, announced the planned dismissal of all charges against Cienfuegos. The attorneys general explained that the decision represented “a strong law enforcement partnership” between the two countries and demonstrated a “united front against all forms of criminality.”

U.S. prosecutors submitted an initial request on Monday before District Court Judge Carol Amon calling for the dismissal of charges. Prosecutors cited “sensitive” foreign policy considerations that outweighed U.S. interests in continuing to press charges against Cienfuegos. While Cienfuegos was scheduled for an initial hearing this Wednesday, it is anticipated that the official request to drop all charges will be granted during his court appearance.

Why Drop Charges?

According to The Washington Post, it appears that the decision was made in an attempt to repair a breach of trust caused by Cienfuegos’ arrest–a move that U.S. officials kept secret from Mexican authorities. Following the arrest, Mexico submitted a formal note of protest to the U.S. Department of Justice. Mexico’s foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard also expressed the country’s disapproval directly to Attorney General Barr on two occasions over the past month. Several U.S. officials agreed that the unilateral approach to Cienfuegos’ arrest was misguided. For instance, retired Army General Barry McCaffrey, the former head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, called the move “very odd,” adding that he would have expected Mexican authorities to be informed prior to the arrest.

Some Mexican security experts believe that had the United States not returned Cienfuegos, the Mexican army would have ceased all bilateral cooperation on counter-drug and security operations. Similarly, prosecutors in the U.S. attorney general’s office in the Eastern District of New York speculate that the dismissal of charges can be attributed to threats to limit the role of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Mexico. Ebrard seemed to confirm these notions, stating that bilateral cooperation against drug trafficking would continue, but only if the United States respected Mexico’s sovereignty.

Still, the decision to drop charges against Cienfuegos is unprecedented. Mike Vigil, the former DEA chief of foreign operations, told The Los Angeles Times that he “…had never seen anything like this occur in [his] lifetime.” He also expressed doubt that Mexican authorities would fulfill their commitment to prosecuting Cienfuegos, adding that he considers the likelihood of this “slim to none.” While the joint statement released by Barr and Gertz Manero noted that the United States would provide evidence to Mexico for its ongoing investigation, Mexican judicial authorities have not made any official commitments to charge Cienfuegos.

Defending Mexico’s Military

While former defense minister Cienfuegos served under AMLO’s predecessor, Enrique Peña Nieto, President López Obrador has demonstrated approval of the military leader’s role in leading the armed forces through times of crisis and upheaval. During the transition between administrations, AMLO called Cienfuegos “an extraordinary general, a man of institutions.”

Under the current administration, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has gone to great lengths to defend the use of Mexico’s military in the fight against organized crime. A cornerstone of his anti-corruption platform, AMLO has sought to expand the role of the military in policing and security operations. Despite human rights concerns expressed by civil society and international organizations, Mexico’s citizenry seems to support López Obrador’s militarized tactics against organized crime. However, it remains to be seen if recent allegations of corruption against top military officials will sway public opinion. This may depend, in part, on how Mexico chooses to proceed with the investigation and case against Cienfuegos.

For his own part, AMLO has made sure to draw a stark contrast between military operations under Peña Nieto’s administration and his own. He has defended both the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) and the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) as institutions that have ensured the security of the Mexican public. Nonetheless, individuals directly connected to the former defense minister Cienfuegos continue to operate within Mexico’s security apparatus.

Sources

“US to Drop Drug Charges against Mexico’s Former Defence Chief.” Aljazeera. 18 November 2020.

Brooks, David. “EU retira cargos a general Cienfuegos; se le investigará en México.” La Jornada. 17 November 2020.

Ferri, Pablo. “EE UU retira los cargos al exsecretario de Defensa Salvador Cienfuegos para que sea juzgado en México.” El País. 17 November 2020.

“Joint Statement by Attorney General of the United States William P. Barr and Fiscalía General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero.” The United States Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs. 17 November 2020.

Kuckertz, Rita E. “Former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda Arrested by U.S. Officials.” Justice in Mexico. 19 October 2020.

McDonnell, Patrick J. & Kate Linthicum. “In a Stunning Reversal, U.S. Drops Charges against Mexico’s ex-defense Chief.” The Los Angeles Times. 17 November 2020.

Mosso, Rubén & José Antonio Belmont. “A petición de la FGR, EU se desiste de cargos contra Salvador Cienfuegos.” Milenio. 17 November 2020.

Sieff, Kevin; Mary Beth Sheridan; & Matt Zapotosky. “U.S. Agrees to Drop Charges against Former Mexican Defense Minister.” The Washington Post. 17 November 2020.

Krauze, León. “The Arrest of a Mexican General Should Be a Turning Point for AMLO and the War on Drugs.” The Washington Post. 22 October 2020.

López Obrador administration secures two high-profile cases of corruption

07/14/20 (written by kheinle) – In the first week of July, the López Obrador administration netted two high-profile cases of corruption. One case includes the former governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte. The other involves the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). Both suspects will be extradited back to Mexico where they face charges of corruption, among other counts.

Ex-Governor Duarte

Former Governor César Duarte. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Former Governor Duarte was arrested in Miami, Florida on Wednesday, July 8. The Mexican government sought his extradition on corruption charges stemming from an audit of the Duarte administration’s finances. The audit led officials to question “the possible diversion of the equivalent of about $320 million [USD] in government funds in 2016, when Duarte was governor,” writes The Associated Press. According to official documents, there was “significant irregularities” in the administration’s spending. Along with the help of some of his staff, Duarte “embezzled state funds for the benefit of himself and his associates,” the court filings read. He also faces charges of illegal campaign financing. He served as governor of Chihuahua from 2010 to 2016.

Chihuahua Judge María Alejandra Ramos Durán ordered Duarte’s arrest in October 2019 to face said charges. Previous requests had also been made, the first one coming in March 2017 from Chihuahua’s District Attorney. Animal Político writes that since the initial request, Duarte was considered a fugitive and placed on Interpol’s radar. At that time, Duarte was already residing in the United States, where he had swiftly relocated in November 2016 following his time in office. He then proceeded to overstay his temporary six-month visa in the United States. According to Chihuahua Governor Javier Corral Jurado, in the past five years, Duarte amassed more than 50 properties in Florida, New Mexico, and Texas, among others.

The U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Marshals led the effort to capture Duarte. Following the arrest, Santiago Nieto, the director of Mexico’s Treasury’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UFI), commented, “No one is above the law.” Duarte was arraigned in U.S. court on July 10.

Former Head of PEMEX

One week prior to Governor Duarte’s arrest, Spain approved the extradition of Emilio Lozoya. the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). Lozoya ran Pemez – Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company – from 2012 to 2016. The suit against Lozoya, which was opened in May 2019, was the first high-profile case of corruption that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched after taking office six-months prior. Spanish officials arrested Lozoya in southern Spain in February 2020. 

Former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya and then Governor of the State of México Enrique Peña Nieto at the World Economic Forum on Latin America in 2010. Photo: Flickr.

The former CEO faces charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering. Some of his alleged crimes tie in with the corruption scandal that unfolded with Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. According to the Associated Press, “The court documents say Oderbrecht allegedly offered [Lozoya] $6 million [USD] in bribes to get a contract for renovating an old oil refinery. The Brazilian firm allegedly wound up paying him $5 million.” However, the amount received may be significantly higher, according to conflicting media reports. Some sources say that Lozoya “allegedly took more than $10 [million] in bribes from Odebrecht starting in March 2012.” There are also allegations that Lozoya participated in bribery and money laundering with a Mexican fertilizer plant that Pemex purchased at a rate higher than market value.

Although he continues to deny wrongdoing, Lozoya did agree to cooperate with Mexican officials in the investigation. This does not come as a surprise to some, notesThe Associated Press. “…Many in Mexico had expected Lozoya might implicate others in the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, perhaps including former [P]resident Enrique Peña Nieto…” Lozoya had a close working relationship with President Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who himself had faced serious criticism for his administration’s fledgling efforts to curtail corruption.

Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020

Duarte’s and Lozoya’s arrests come on the heels of a report co-published in June by the Americas Society / Council of the Americas and the consultancy firm, Control Risks. The report, “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020,” looks at Latin American countries’ capacity and capability to ‘detect, punish, and prevent corruption.’” The authors criticize President López Obrador for failing combat corruption despite campaign promises to do so. Read more about that report and its critical findings here.

Still, the recent arrests and agreed upon extraditions in July 2020 are two important victories for the López Obrador administration.

Sources:

Harrup, Anthony and Juan Montes. “Mexican Investigators File Corruption Charges Against Pemex Ex-CEO.” The Wall Street Journal. May 27, 2019.

“Efforts to Combat Corruption in Mexico Exemplify the Depth of the Problem.” Justice in Mexico. June 11, 2019.

Simon, Roberto and Geert Aalbers. “The Capacity to Combat Corruption (CCC) Index 2020.” Americas Socity / Council of the Americas and Control Risks. June 8, 2020.

“Corruption in Mexico Persists Despite Campaign Promises.” Justice in Mexico. June 24, 2020.

“Extreme corruption on charge sheet of Mexico’s ex-oil chief.” The Associated Press. July 6, 2020.

“Spain court approves extradition of Mexico’s former oil chief.” Al Jazeera. July 6, 2020.

“Ex-Mexico governor arrested in Miami on extradition request.” The Associated Press. July 8, 2020.

“César Duarte acumuló 50 propiedades en tres estados de EU, indica Corral.” Animal Político. July 9, 2020.

“César Duarte comparece mañana a través de video en Miami.” El Universal. July 9, 2020.

Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security arrested in Texas

Former Secretary of Public Security giving a speech during his tenure. Photo: The Associated Press, Alexandre Meneghini.
Former Secretary of Public Security giving a speech during his tenure. Photo: The Associated Press, Alexandre Meneghini.

12/19/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s former Secretary of Public Security, Genaro García Luna, was arrested in Dallas, Texas on Monday, December 9. According to The Los Angeles Times, he is thought to be the highest ranking Mexican official ever to be charged with drug trafficking in the United States. He served as Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) from 2006 to 2012 during the Calderón Administration. Prior to that, he led Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigación, AFI) from 2001 to 2005 during the Fox Administration.

Four-Count Charge

The indictment against García Luna was unsealed on December 10 in the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Eastern District of New York, leveling three counts of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and one count of making false statements in his U.S. citizenship application. With the former secretary’s protection, the Sinaloa Cartel was able to safely import tons of cocaine and other drugs into the United States between 2006 and 2012. The indictment specifically alleges that García Luna:

  1. “…[conspired] to distribute a controlled substance, intending, knowing and having reasonable cause to believe that such substance would be lawfully imported into the United States from a place outside thereof, which offense involved a substance containing cocaine…”
  2. “…[conspired] to distribute and possess with intent to distribute one or more controlled substances, which offense involved a substance containing cocaine…”
  3. “…[conspired] to import a controlled substance into the United States from a place outside thereof, which offense involved a substance containing cocaine…”
  4. “…[made] one or more materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations, in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States…”

Systemic Corruption

García Luna’s arrest is emblematic of the serious challenges facing Mexico. The country is notorious for its inability – in some cases unwillingness – to curtail corruption, to check the extremely high levels of impunity, and to hold elected officials accountable. In García Luna’s case, as Secretary of Public Security from 2006 to 2012, he was “the man considered to be the brains behind the Mexican government’s militarized war on drug traffickers,” writes The New York Times. According to the indictment, however, on two occasions García Luna received briefcases full of cash from the Sinaloa Cartel totaling USD $3 million and USD $5 million. Thus, he was simultaneously receiving millions of dollars in exchange for protecting the Sinaloa Cartel and allowing it to operate with impunity while leading the government’s “tough on crime” security plan targeting the Sinaloa Cartel, among others.

In hind sight, García Luna undermined his own strategy. “We are obligated to confront crime,” he said in an interview in 2008 discussing the potential to negotiate with cartels. “That is our job, that is our duty, and we will not consider a pact.”

Funds Received

This indictment unveiled in the Eastern District of New York also sheds some light on the previously unaccounted for growth in García Luna’s personal wealth, as detailed by El Universal. “According to official numbers, García Luna’s salary increase[d] by 120% and his assets increased their value five times.” In 2002, the former secretary earned MXN $1.7 million in 2002, but then jumped to MXN $3.7 million in 2008. He and his wife also owned two homes valued around MXN $500,000 each in 2002, but then owned a MXN $7.5 million-home in 2008 worth more than seven times that his two properties combined just six years earlier. They then purchased two homes just four years later in 2012 in Florida valued at USD $5.5 million combined. There have long been questions surrounding García Luna’s ability to purchase such luxury homes; the indictment may help fill in these gaps.

A Step Forward

With the blatant show of corruption on display in García Luna’s indictment, his arrest is being applauded. “García Luna stands accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel while [García Luna] controlled Mexico’s Federal Police Force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico,” wrote U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue. His “arrest demonstrates our resolve to bring to justice those who help cartels inflict devastating harm on the United States and Mexico, regardless of the positions they held while committing their crimes.”

If convicted, García Luna faces between ten years and life in prison. Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) is also working with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, SRE) to extradite García Luna to face charges in Mexico.

Sources:

Indictment. CR 19-576. United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. December 4, 2019.

Espino, Manuel. “FGR solicitará extradición de Genaro García Luna.” El Universal. December 10, 2019.

Gringlas, Sam. “Former Top Mexican Security Official Arrested On Cocaine Trafficking Charges.” National Public Radio. December 10, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “Former Mexican security official arrested in U.S., accused of taking millions in bribes from ‘El Chapo.’” The Los Angeles Times. December 10, 2019.

Press Release. “Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security Arrested for Drug-Trafficking Conspiracy and Making False Statements.” Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York. December 10, 2019.

Semple, Kirk and Paulina Villegas. “Arrest of Top Crime Fights Stuns Mexico, Where Corruption Is All Too Routine.” The New York Times. December 11, 2019.

Zavala, Susana. “Genaro García Luna inexplicably built a fortune in 6 years.” El Universal. December 12, 2019.

Allegations of Police Involvement in Rape, Corruption

police allegations draw protestors in CDMX

Protestors in Mexico City at the women’s march rally against the police using the social media handle #NoMeCuidanMeViolan. Photo: AFP.

08/20/19 (written by kheinle) – Systemic challenges have long plagued Mexico’s police forces. Recent investigations into cases of rape and corruption among police in Mexico City and Naucalpan, State of México, respectively, highlight deep-seated issues.

Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX)

Police in Mexico City face scrutiny following allegations that they raped three young women, including two teenage girls. The first case occurred on July 10 when a 27-year-old female was picked up by two Mexico City police officers and taken to a hotel. The victim filed charges two days later alleging the officers raped her there, leading to the detention of one of the two involved officers. The police were members of Mexico City’s Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Ciudadana).

The second case occurred on August 3 when a 17-year-old girl was walking home from a party in the early morning. The victim reported that four police officers offered to give her a ride home, and then proceeded to rape her in the patrol car. According to the State Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE) and District Attorney Ernestina Godoy, the victim chose not to pursue charges after the media published her case out of fear and concern. The officers, therefore, have not been charged.

The third case involved a 16-year-old girl who was allegedly raped on August 8 in the bathroom at the Photography Archive Museum (Museo Archivo de la Fotografía) by a police officer. The suspect in that case was identified and arrested the same day. At least one week after the incident occurred, however, formal charges had still not yet been delivered.

Public Backlash

Protestors took to the streets of Mexico City when news broke on the cases, demanding justice for women, accountability, and protection from police. More than 300 people participated in the march for women’s issues on August 13, which escalated when demonstrators broke down the glass doors of the PGJE headquarters. Another protestor tagged Mexico City’s Secretary of Security, Jesús Orta Martínez, with hot pink glitter when he tried to speak to the crowds.

Jesús Orta Martínez

Secretary of Security Jesús Orta Martínez amidst the protestors in Mexico City. Photo: AFP.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum drew a fine line in addressing the events at the women’s march. Sheinbaum, the capital’s first elected female mayor, pledged in July to eliminate violence against women, also known as femicide. She then stressed that justice would be served in the cases of rape allegations and that the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) would be involved in the investigations. Yet she also criticized the protestors for acting as “provocateurs.” “I want to categorically affirm that this was a provocation. [The protestors] wanted the government to use violent methods and in no way will we fall for it,” she said. “There will be an investigation and the prosecutors’ office will resolve it,” she continued.

District Attorney Godoy also stood her ground. “We are not going to fabricate the guilty,” she said, acknowledging that the lack of direct accusations in the August 3 case from the victim has made it tough to act against the accused police officers. Nevertheless, Godoy and Mayor Sheinbaum continue to face public backlash for their handling of these cases.

Naucalpan, State of México (Estado de México, Edomex)

Police in the State of México are also being scrutinized for their alleged involvement in acts of corruption. The Commissioner of Public Security in Nacualpan, State of México, Lázaro Gaytán Aguirre, announced in mid-July that 60 police officers were under investigation. The officers were relieved of their duties while investigations unfold, but were not discharged entirely from the force.

In early August, the local government doubled down on its commitment to rooting out corruption in the police force. Gaytán Aguirre called on citizens to support by reporting incidences of corruption among police. “I invite citizens to let us know and give us the information needed to act,” he said. “I promise that we will protect the information of the informant, keeping it anonymous, so that we can punish and remove the corrupt officers from the force.”

Inadequate Training, Support

The Naucalpan Police exemplify the challenges police face throughout the country. According to Commissioner Gáytan, there had been little to no investment in training, equipment, or uniforms for his force over the past three years. “Naucalpan is deficient in its control and confidence exams,” he said, referencing the measures that police forces take to vet officers. “When there’s disorder, it leads to chaos.”

The current investigation into the 60 officers is part of an effort unfolding this year to clean up the division. La Jornada reported that 80% of the Naucalpan force – 1,300 of the 1,800 officers – will be evaluated for ties to corruption through control and confidence exams. Normally only a third of the force is evaluated annually, but given the three-year hiatus that the Naucalpan Police have had since their last exam, the Commissioner is making a strong push.

Commissioner Gáytan also acknowledged the importance of addressing the factors that drive police to engage in corrupt acts. One specific recommendation he offered was to improve police officers’ career paths and professional perks. “It’s important to create the institutional tools necessary so that they see a career in being in the Police,” he said, arguing that police will be more cautious in “engaging in unjust actions that result in loss of benefits, such as public recognition, scholarships for their children, housing programs, promotions, etc.”

Public Perception of Police

These cases are not the unique to Mexico City and the State of México. For example, 15 local police in Madera, Chihuahua were detained on August 15 for their alleged involvement in thwarting a state police operation against an organized crime group. Two other police officers in Iguala, Guerrero were named in the National Human Rights Commission’s recent report detailing their involvement, and that of the Iguala Police Station, in the 2014 disappearance of 43 student activists.

Given the systemic challenges that undermine the police and the public’s pushback to hold officers accountable, polling shows that the public dissatisfaction with the police. According to Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI), a large majority of individuals 18-years-old and above who participated in its National Survey of Victimization and Perception on Public Security (ENVIPE) in 2018 found police to be only “somewhat effective” (“algo efectivo”) as opposed to “very effective” (“muy efectivo”). Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) fared the best with 15.4% of respondents grading their effectiveness as “very effective” with 49.1% saying “somewhat effective.” The public viewed State Police (Policía Estatal) worse with 7.8% saying “very effective” versus 43.4% saying “somewhat effective.” Preventative Municipal Police (Policía Preventativa Municipal, PPM) did slightly worse with 5.5% expressing “very effective” and 37.4% saying “somewhat effective.” Traffic Police (Policía de Tránsito) had only 5.1% of respondents say they do their job “very effective[ly]” and 35.1% say only “somewhat effective[ly].”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has also openly criticized the effectiveness and quality of the police. He plans to ultimately fold the police into the newly launched National Guard within 18 months. To read more about the National Guard, click here..

Sources:

Oficina Especial para el ‘Caso Iguala.’ “Recomendación No. 15VG/2018: Caso Iguala.” Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. November 28, 2018.

Chart. “Población de 18 años y más, por tipo de autoridad que identifica según nivel de efectividad que considera sobre su trabajo.” In “Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública.” Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía. 2018.

Chávez González, Silvia. “Investigan en Naucalpan a 60 policías por corrupción.” La Jornada. July 15, 2019.

Corona, Salvador. “Sheinbaum asegura que a 200 días de Gobierno han disminuido los delitos.” El Universal. July 21, 2019.

“En gobierno de Sheinbaum, vinculan a proceso a 25 policías por corrupción.” Milenio. July 21, 2019.

“AMLO deploys National Guard amidst controversy.” Justice in Mexico. July 24, 2019.

Gómez, Nancy. “CNDH denuncia a 375 funcionarios por omisión y tortura en caso Ayotzinapa.” SDP Noticias. July 25, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. July 26, 2019.

“Policía de Naucalpan va contra actos de corrupción dentro de la corporación policíaca.” 24-Horas. August 2, 2019.

“A Look at Violence in Mexico City: Femicide and Underreporting.” Justice in Mexico. August 7, 2019.

“Mexican women demand justice for girls allegedly raped by police officers in Mexico City.” The Yucatan Times. August 13, 2019.

“Van tres casos de violaciones cometidas por policías de la CDMX en días recientes.” Vanguardia. August 13, 2019.

“Violaciones en CDMX: los 2 casos de adolescentes supuestamente agredidas sexualmente por policías que indignan capital de México.” BBC News. August 13, 2019.

Associated Press. “México: Arrestan a 15 policías locales por impedir operativo.” Houston Chronicle. August 16, 2019.

Efforts to Combat Corruption in Mexico Exemplify the Depth of the Problem

06/11/19 (written by kheinle) — One of the defining pillars of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (2018-2024) presidential campaign platform was his commitment to root out corruption in Mexico. Just six months after taking office, his administration has made some advances in several cases against high profile individuals and/or government officials. However, such efforts, as described below, also demonstrate just how pervasive the problem of corruption is in Mexico.

Judicial Branch

Allegations recently came forth that implicate members of the judiciary, including those at the highest level of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN).

District Courts

Map of Mexico

Information shared with the Federal Judicial Council in late 2018 showed the documented cases of corruption, irregularities, and serious offenses in Mexico’s courts. Source: El Universal, Elaboración Propia.

First, news came out in early June that Mexico’s Federal Judiciary (Poder Judicial de la Federación) had documented cases of serious abuses by judges and magistrates throughout Mexico from 2014 to 2018. El Universal reported that the cases involved crimes of corruption, collusion, ties with organized crime, nepotism, and sexual harassment, among others. The charges led to 49 district judges and 39 magistrates being sanctioned for their “irregularities” in the courts. Another 15 judges and magistrates were ultimately dismissed from the bench for having committed serious offenses.

Information on the alleged abuses were turned over to Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF) at the end of 2018. The investigations found the states of Jalisco, Puebla, San Luis Potosí, Veracruz, and Zacatecas were involved. Jalisco, in particular, has since garnered the most attention from Supreme Court Justice President Arturo Zaldívar Lelo de Larrea to address the problem. This has included disciplinary action against justice system operators and reassignment of positions, among others. Justice Zaldívar reported success with the focused efforts. “Particularly in the state of Jalisco,” he said on May 3, “which is one of the circuits that we had learned had been dealing with all sorts of problems, we have begun to overhaul the circuit. We feel it is important to issue reassignments in order to have new blood.”

Supreme Court

Accusations of corruption within the courts then extended to the Supreme Court not a few weeks after. On June 6, the Director of the Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad Inteligencia Financiera, UIF), Santiago Nieto Castillo, announced that the Mexican Senate had requested his agency to look into suspicious money transfers made to the overseas accounts of sitting SCJN Justice Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza (2015-present). An Op-Ed piece by Salvador García Soto in El Universal on June 5 reported that between 2016 and 2018, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency documented a total of $2.4 million (USD) deposited into Justice Medina Mora’s HSBC UK account. The U.S. Treasury Department reported similar transfers in the amount of $2.1 million (USD) into his HSBC USA account during the same time period.

One day after García’s piece was published, the Senate initiated proceedings for the UIF to begin its investigation. After the news broke, President López Obrador reminded Mexicans that Justice Medina is not guilty simply because suspicious activity was reported, and that his government was looking into it.

PEMEX and Altos Hornos de México

Mexican Supreme Court Justice and former Mexican president

Supreme Court Justice Medina-Mora (right) with former President Enrique Peña Nieto (left). Source: Zeta Tijuana.

Just before the allegations against Justice Medina-Mora came out, The Wall Street Journal reported that the López Obrador administration launched its first high-profile case against corruption in late-May. The case involves former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Emilio Lozoya Austin, and former head of Altos Hornos de México, Alonso Ancira Elizondo. Pemex is Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, whereas Altos Hornos de México is one of the nation’s largest steelmakers.

Both men are alleged to have engaged in making illegal payments through their former companies, either with unlawful earnings in Lozoya’s case or through shell companies in that of Ancira Elizondo. According to Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), which is overseeing the investigations, “multiple operations were identified in the domestic and international financial system that were carried out with resources that allegedly do not come from lawful activities and which are presumed to have derived from acts of corruption.” The López Obrador administration has since frozen the bank accounts and assets of Lozoya and Ancira while the investigations unfold. “The Mexican government’s policy is zero tolerance for corruption and impunity,” said the UIF Director Nieto Castillo.

The López Obrador Administration

President López Obrador has held up his campaign promise and made corruption one of his biggest focuses since taking office. The high-profile cases against Pemex’s Lozoya Austin and Altos Hornos de México’s Ancira Elizondo, the dismissal of 15 district judges and magistrates, and the launch of the investigation into sitting SCJN Justice Medina-Mora, however, demonstrate the magnitude of the work President López Obrador has ahead.

In Justice in Mexico’s annual report, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018,” the authors provided recommendations for ways the López Obrador Administration and others could combat corruption in Mexico. “Mexican civic organizations, international agencies, and foreign governments can help Mexico crackdown on corruption,” they argue. “For example, foreign governments can investigate corruption claims and, where appropriate, deny travel privileges or freeze the assets of Mexican nationals wanted on corruption charges.” It continued, “International foundations and non-governmental organizations can partner with Mexican anti-corruption agencies and organizations to provide much needed funding and technical assistance.”

To read the full report, click here.

 

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Lastiri, Diana. “Jalisco ‘foco rojo’ de la corrupción en Poder Judicial.” El Universal. May 16, 2019.

Esposito, Anthony. “Mexico takes aim at former Pemex CEO in fight against graft.” Reuters. May 27, 2019.

Harrup, Anthony and Juan Montes. “Mexican Investigators File Corruption Charges Against Pemex Ex-CEO.” The Wall Street Journal. May 27, 2019.

“Alonso Ancira Elizondo, el dueño de Altos Hornos que detenido en España.” Milenio. May 28, 2019.

Guthrie, Amy. “Mexico freezes oil exec, steel accounts in corruption probe.” The Associated Press. May 28, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. May 29, 2019.

Lastiri Diana. “Destituyen a 15 jueces por acoso y corrupción.” El Universal. June 4, 2019.

García Soto, Salvador. “Opinión: Las transferencias millonarias del ministro Medina Mora.” El Universal. June 5, 2019.

Álvarez, Carlos. “Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera analizará depósitos a ministro Eduardo Medina Mora.” Zeta Tijuana. June 7, 2019.