Two Former High-ranking Federal and State Officials Face Charges of Corruption

11/10/20 (written by kheinle) — The López Obrador administration’s efforts to root out corruption continue, this time with two officials at the federal and state level facing charges.

Corruption at the Federal Level

Luis Videgaray, the former Secretary of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Credito Público, SHCP) during the Peña Nieto administration (2012-2018), is being investigated for alleged acts of corruption, electoral crimes, and possibly even treason. He allegedly received millions of dollars through the Brazilian-based business Odebrecht, the high-profile case of corruption that the López Obrador administration is working to untangle. A judge initially blocked the warrant for Videgaray’s arrest. Prosecutors are now working to “perfect” the language and justification for the warrant before resubmitting the request.  

Luis Videgaray. Photo: Cuartoscuro, Animal Politico.

Former CEO of PEMEX (Petróleo Mexicano), Emilio Lozoya, named Videgaray in the case. Lozoya, who is currently facing charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering, is cooperating with officials as his case unfolds. Videgaray is one of a handful of high-profile persons that Lozoya has accused of corruption. This includes former Presidents Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), and even President Enrique Peña Nieto under whom he served. In August 2020, according to Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero, Lozoya named Peña Nieto and Videgaray in the Odebrecht scandal, saying that he handled millions of dollars’ worth of bribes on both of their behalf, reported the Washington Post.

The targeting of former presidents in alleged criminal acts while in office compliments President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s strategy. The current president has pushed forward a referendum to address past cases of criminal conduct, specifically that of corruption and ties to organized crime. Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies approved the initiative on October 22 with a vote of 272 in favor and 116 against. Having now passed through Mexico’s Congress and with the backing of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN), the Mexican people will vote on the plebiscite in June 2021.

Corruption in the Capital

In addition to federal level cases of corruption, the López Obrador administration is also targeting state- and local-level actors, like Raymundo Collins Flores who is accused of misdirecting public funds for personal gains and abuse of public office. As El Universal describes, Collins held a number of high-ranking positions in Mexico City. This included the former Under-secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) in 2002, the former director of the Housing Institute (Instituto de Vivienda, INVI) from 2012 to 2018, and the former Secretary of Public Security in 2018.

Raymundo Collins Flores, seen left, and the 41 classic, high-end vehicles found on his property in Morelos. Photo: La Jornada.

An order for Collins’ arrest was issued in December 2019, but subsequently blocked by a judge. A second order was released in September 2020. On October 30, Mexican officials raided Collins’ property in the State of Morelos where they found over 40 high-end classic cars and expensive works of art, among other items. The day after the raid, Mexican officials requested that the United States extradite Collins back to Mexico to stand trial. He had fled while the investigations against him were unfolding. Although he has been located in the United States at the time of this writing, it is not clear if U.S. officials have yet complied with the extradition request.

Corruption within the AMLO Administration

Despite President López Obrador’s efforts to address corruption, his administration is not immune. According to the Secretary of Public Administration (Secretaría de la Función Pública, SFP), more than 500 complaints of wrongdoing were filed against the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) since the president took office in December 2018. They include allegations of corruption, bribery, embezzlement, illegal use of public office, and other internal irregularities.

Over 75% of the complaints (296 of 388) registered from December 2018 through June 2020 were against the Institute of Security and State Workers Social Services (Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado, ISSSTE). Another 125 complaints against all offices were registered from late June to the end of October 2020, showing a noticeable increase in pace from the previous 18 months. Of the more than 500 cases in total during President López Obrador’s time in office, the Secretary of Public Administration noted that not one has been brought before the federal courts

It is encouraging to see the progress being made against former high-level officials like Videgaray and Collins involved in cases of corruption. Yet the results of the SFP’s investigation ought to be a reminder to the López Obrador administration to not lose sight of its own workers in the here and now.

Sources:

Alarcón, Juan Carlos. “Raymundo Collins no extorsionó a empresarios; denuncias pesan contra excolaboradores.” MVS Noticias. January 6, 2020.

López Obrador administration secures two high-profile cases of corruption.” Justice in Mexico. July 14, 2020.

Sheridan, Mary Beth. “Former aide ties Mexican ex-president Peña Nieto to millions in bribes.” Washington Post. August 11, 2020.

Fuentes, David. “Dictan segunda orden de aprehensión contra Raymundo Collins, extitular del Invi.” El Universal. September 8, 2020.

“President López Obrador Targets His Predecessors with a Referendum on Corruption.” Justice in Mexico. October 20, 2020.

Jimenez, Horacio. “Diputados avalan consulta de AMLO para enjuiciar a expresidentes.” El Universal. October 22, 2020.

“Quién es Raymundo Collins, exfuncionario al que le aseguararon 41 autos clásicos.” El Universal. October 30, 2020.

Ruiz, Kevin. “Catean domicile de Raymundo Collins en Tequesquitengo; aseguran 41 autos clásicos.El Universal. October 30, 2020.

Quintero M., Josefina. “Fiscalía solicita a Estados Unidos la extradición de Raymundo Collins.” La Jornada. November 1, 2020.

Lastiri, Diana. “Realizan 500 denuncias por corrupción, pero ninguna llega ante jueces.” El Universal. November 2, 2020.

“FGR sobre Videgaray: no nos han negado orden de aprehensión y reunimos más pruebas.” Animal Político. November 3, 2020.

Reuters. “AMLO confirma que juez negó orden de aprehensión contra Videgaray solicitada por la FGR.” El Economista. November 3, 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.

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.