President López Obrador Targets His Predecessors with a Referendum on Corruption

10/20/20 (written by kheinle) – President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is throwing the weight of the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de México, SCJN) behind a referendum to address past cases of criminal conduct, specifically that of corruption and ties to organized crime. In a move that is politically charged and controversial, the president’s referendum seeks to allow for former Mexican presidents to be investigated and held accountable for potential criminal acts conducted while in office.

President Andrés Manual López Obrador at a press briefing in July 2020. Photo: Marco Ugarte, The Associated Press.

The Referendum’s Target

The referendum specifically looks at the administrations from the last three decades, including former Presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León (1994-2000), Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006), Felipe Calderón Hinojosa (2006-2012), and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). There is only one other former Mexican president still alive, Luis Echeverría, but President López Obrador did not name him in the proceedings. Those that were named, however, are accused of being involved in “privatizations rife with cronyism, spiraling violence, and an increasing concentration of wealth,” writes The Guardian.

Nevertheless, none of the five former presidents named in the referendum have any open criminal cases against them. Rather, this referendum would simply allow for the possibility that they – and future presidents – be investigated and prosecuted for alleged crimes committed in office. Article 108 of the Mexican Constitution protects sitting presidents from being charged while serving, unless the wrongdoings pertain to treason and serious crimes against the common good (“por traición a la patria y delitos graves del orden común”). President López Obrador’s referendum would simply open the door for action to be taken after the president leaves office.

The Supreme Court’s Involvement

In September 2020, President López Obrador presented the referendum along with 2.5 million signatures in support to Congress. Mexico’s National Election Institute is currently verifying the signatures on the petition to ensure the validity of the registered voters. They have a 30-day window allotted from the time the document was submitted to complete their check.

The Supreme Court holds a virtual hearing on October 1, 2020. Photo: JusticiaTV, Vivo.

In the meantime, the referendum proceeded to the Supreme Court in early October, which ruled in a vote of 6 to 5 that the referendum was constitutional and could proceed. Notably, however, the Court modified the verbiage in an 8 to 3 vote to read that investigations could be brought against “political actors,” not “ex-presidents. The judges voted to “neutralize and simplify” the wording, writes Animal Político. The language specifically changed from President López Obrador’s version, which read:

“Está de acuerdo o no con que las autoridades competentes con apego a las leyes y procedimientos aplicables, investiguen y en su caso sancionen la presunta comisión de delitos por parte de los expresidentes Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón y Enrique Peña Nieto, antes, durante y después de sus respectivas gestiones.”

The version approved by the SCJN now reads:

“Estás de acuerdo o no en que se lleven a cabo las acciones pertinentes con apego al marco constitucional y legal para emprender un proceso de esclarecimiento de las decisiones políticas tomadas en los años pasados por los actores políticos encaminado a garantizar la justicia y los derechos de las posibles víctimas”

The final step in the referendum’s approval process will be held in June 2021 when the plebiscite, as it is technically called, will be put before the public for a vote. This will coincide with the midterm congressional elections. Writes The Guardian, President López Obrador “wants ‘the people’ to give the green light to any legal proceedings against the country’s former presidents.”

AMLO’s Progress on Corruption

President López Obrador made combatting and uprooting corruption in Mexico one of his major political platforms and election promises. His first year in office was rather quiet in terms of concrete action against corruption. In December 2019, however, one of the first big cases of corruption was unveiled with the arrest and extradition of former Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna in December 2019. García Luna faces four counts of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and making false statements, charges that he pleaded not guilty to in October 2020.

Then, in July 2020, two more high-profile cases of corruption came to fruition. This includes a case of corruption, embezzlement, and financial irregularities against the former governor of the State of Chihuahua, César Duarte. Additionally, the former CEO of Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), Emilio Lozoya, was also extradited to Mexico from Spain to face similar charges of corruption, tax fraud, bribery, and money laundering.

In September 2020, another case broke involving seven government officials who are accused of accepting bribes from federal police officers. The accusations allege that more than 2.5 million pesos were illegally diverted from federal funds through money laundering between 2013 and 2017.

Then, on October 16, 2020, Mexican were again reminded of the systemic corruption ingrained in their government when the former head of the Secretary of Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA), Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, was arrested in Los Angeles. He faces charges in Mexico of ties to organized crime and drug trafficking. Read more about that story here.

Sources:

“Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security arrested in Texas.” Justice in Mexico. December 19, 2019.

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

Agren, David. “Mexico’s Amlo proposes referendum on prosecuting country’s ex-presidents.” The Guardian. September 15, 2020.

Barajas, Abel. “Piden amparo siete exfuncionarios por desvíos en Policía Federal.” El Diaro. September 21, 2020.

“El Senado envía al INE 2 solicitudes de consulta ciudadana para poder enjuiciar a expresidentes.” Sin Embargo. September 22, 2020.

“Corte aprueba consulta ciudadana pero saca a expresidentes de la boleta.” Animal Político. October 1, 2020.

Marín, Carlos. “Fallo y reacción incomprensibles.” Milenio. October 5, 2020.

Durán, Raúl. “Juez Cogan suspende audiencia de García Luna por ruido de reporteros mexicanos.” Debate. October 7, 2020.

“Mexico’s ex-security chief pleads not guilty to drug charges.” The Associated Press. October 7, 2020.

“¿Avalarán mexicanos propuesta de AMLO para enjuiciar expresidentes?” El Nuevo Siglo. October 10, 2020.

McDonnell, Patrick J. “Mexico stunned by L.A. arrest of former defense chief allegedly on drug cartel’s payroll.” Los Angeles Times. October 16, 2020.

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

Supreme Court determines Law on Internal Security unconstitutional

Supreme Court building

Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation. Source: Wikipedia.

12/30/18 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) made a significant decision in November regarding the proposed Law on Internal Security (Ley de Seguridad Interior). The law was meant to address Mexico’s notoriously high levels of crime and violence. It sought to expand safety on the domestic front, minimize threats towards internal security, and increase the role of the military in domestic affairs. The latter includes the military’s capacity to gather intelligence and evidence in proposed crimes.

On November 15, 2018, however, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, arguing that it went against both the Mexican Constitution and international treaties to which Mexico is a signatory. The Court also said that Mexico’s Congress, which had approved the law, should not legislate on matters of internal security. When the draft law was published in December 2017, Congress was controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), the party of then-President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). On December 1, 2018, the new government took over under now-President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA) took office.

Critics of the Law on Internal Security

Despite its Congressional support, the law received pushback from civilian institutions and human rights activists. The Washington Office on Latin America shared its concern in a communication just weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision. WOLA noted the control it would have given the military in overseeing civilian authorities in domestic affairs, as well as its expanded role in investigations. “Paired with the absence of effective controls and accountability mechanisms to oversee those actions, this will limit the power of authorities within the civilian justice system, resulting in impunity,” WOLA stated. The law also drew ire from the public. A Change.org petition was submitted a month after the draft law was initially published with over 467,000 signatures urging the Mexican government to reject the law. WOLA summarized that the five main reasons for the public’s rebuke included:

  1. “Lack of accountability mechanisms and civilian oversight;
  2. Expanding the military’s jurisdiction over civilians;
  3. Insufficient regulation of the military’s use of force;
  4. Lack of transparency in how the Internal Security Law will be implemented; [and]
  5. The Internal Security Law disincentives police reform.”

The high court’s decision is one that Esmeralda Arosema de Troitiño, the spokesperson for Mexico’s Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH), argued set a precedent for President López Obrador’s incoming government. The Court’s decision “constitutes an indispensable judicial precedent as the base for the new government to present a concrete plan to gradually draw down military in public security matters…,” she said.

The developments with the Law on Internal Security paralleled President López Obrador’s ongoing push for a National Guard, which has also raised concerns about human rights and public safety.

Sources:

Cámara de Deputados del H. Congreso de la Unión. “Ley de Seguridad Interior.” Diario Oficial de la Federación. December 21, 2017. PDF.

Suarez-Enriquez, Ximena and Maureen Meyer. “Multiple Sectors Push Back Against the Implementation of Mexico’s New Internal Security Law.” WOLA. January 25, 2018.

Joint Statement. “International Observatory on Mexico: The Decision of Mexico’s Supreme Court on the Internal Security Law Will Set a Fundamental Precedent on Militarization in the Country and in the Region.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 2, 2018. 

Ferri, Pablo. “La justicia mexicana tumba la ley del gobierno saliente que perpetúa el papel policial del Ejército.” El País. November 16, 2018.

Roldán, Mariluz. “CIDH celebra invalidación de Ley de Seguridad Interior.” El Universal. November 26, 2018.

“Critics voice concerns over Mexico’s proposed National Guard.” Justice in Mexico. December 24, 2018.