By Jose de Cordoba and Santiago Perez / Wall Street Journal
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose past two years in office have been shadowed by a conflict-of-interest scandal linked to a Mexico City mansion, is facing new scrutiny linked to the first family’s use of a luxury apartment in Miami.
Ricardo Pierdant, a Miami-based businessman, in 2013 paid close to $30,000 in property taxes on behalf of first lady Angélica Rivera for an apartment she owns in Miami, according to tax records seen by The Wall Street Journal. Pierdant is a close friend of Mexico´s first family, according to Peña Nieto´s office.
Pierdant subsequently purchased another apartment directly above Rivera’s, according to Miami property records.
Eduardo Sánchez, the president’s spokesman, acknowledged that Rivera had used Pierdant’s apartment, but said it was only on rare occasions. He said there was no conflict of interest because the businessman has no contracts with the federal government and isn’t participating in any current bids. He declined to discuss why Pierdant paid property taxes on Rivera’s property.
Links between Mexican businessmen and properties owned by the first couple have been an issue in Mexico since 2014, when it emerged that the first lady had bought a $4 million mansion from a prominent government contractor, leading to allegations by the president’s political opponents and civil society groups of a conflict of interest. She sold the house back to the contractor.
Automotive News – A former governor of Mexico’s northern Nuevo Leon state will be tried for alleged improprieties linked to tax incentives his administration gave to South Korean carmaker Kia Motors to build a plant. In June, an anti-corruption prosecutor accused former governor Rodrigo Medina and 30 others including former officials, family and friends, of corruption that drained some 3.6 billion pesos ($195.87 million) from state coffers.
The Guardian – Mexico’s first lady is using a luxury property in Florida bought by a company that is expected to bid for lucrative government contracts, the Guardian has learned. Angelica Rivera, the wife of President Enrique Peña Nieto, is using the $2.05 million apartment in Key Biscayne, south of Miami Beach, with the apparent blessing of Grupo Pierdant, which is a contender to run Mexico’s ports.
The arrangements echo aspects of Rivera’s purchase of a $7 million mansion in Mexico City from another government contractor, the so-called Casa Blanca scandal.
Foreign Affairs – Public frustration with government is nothing new in Mexico, where corruption has long undermined the country’s development. According to the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a think tank, each year corruption costs the country between two and ten percent of its GDP, reduces investment by five percent, and eliminates 480,000 jobs from small- and medium-sized businesses. But recently, the Mexican government has begun to act on these issues.
El Financiero – The state government of Queretaro introduced a mobile application called ‘Report Corruption Queretaro’, with which it seeks to encourage the citizens to make complaints if they can demonstrate corruption through videos, photos, audio and texts.
WSJ – Last August, Mexico’s antitrust commission approved the purchase of the country’s third-largest pharmaceutical distributor by a little-known Dutch fund, saying it didn’t believe the tie-up would hurt competition in the marketplace. What regulators didn’t know was that principal owner of Nadro, the country’s leading drug distributor, was actually behind the Dutch fund that bought Casa Marzam, Nadro’s rival.
The Angel of Independence monument in the heart of Mexico City is often overrun by protesters seeking to highlight the grievances that abound in a country with 50 percent poverty and acute inequality.
The demonstrators who took over the landmark this Thursday came from rather different stock.
Instead of stopping traffic, the men and women in suits walked across the street in groups with the help of a traffic officer. Rather than shouting slogans, they played tranquil elevator music out of a PA system. They didn’t hold signs scrawled with insults in black marker. They did spell out their concern with large gold balloons held by younger staff — also in suits.
The balloons said “MX without corruption.”
“This is the first time that business owners have met up at the Angel of Independence,” said Gustavo de Hoyos Walther, the National President of COPARMEX, a business group that claims to represent more than 30 percent of Mexico’s GDP and nearly 5 million jobs. “We have come to say with one voice that we want to eradicate corruption from Mexico.”
The demonstration came two days after the senate approved a watered down version of an anti-corruption bill that had emerged from an unusual alliance between business owners and usually left-leaning NGOs. The weakened bill is now heading to the lower house for a second reading.
Mexico’s Senate passed Wednesday an anticorruption bill requiring public servants to make their assets, tax returns and economic interests public, taking up a proposal signed by more than 600,000 citizens, while giving a new independent anticorruption body the power to protect information it considers may affect the private lives of public servants.
The bill is part of legislation for implementing constitutional changes made in April of last year to tackle corruption in government. The lower house is expected to vote on the legislation this week.
The bill was a compromise between President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government and the ruling party, which wanted to keep some information private for security reasons, and civil society organizations and some opposition lawmakers who favored full disclosure of assets.
Currently, public servants aren’t forced to make their statements public.
“This legislation is an improvement compared to what we had. It doesn’t include all that we demanded, but Mexico will have a stronger anticorruption legal framework and stronger and independent anticorruption authorities,” said Max Kaiser, an anticorruption expert at think tank IMCO, one of the leading nonprofits behind the citizens’ initiative.
Members of the Zetas drug gang used a prison in northern Mexico as their private house of horrors where they tortured and killed kidnapping victims and underworld enemies, public prosecutors in the state of Coahuila have said.
Between 2009 and 2012, Piedras Negras prison became a virtual extermination camp, ruled with impunity by the notorious crime cartel as an operational base for their reign of terror in the US-Mexican border region.
After an investigation into the three-year period, authorities estimate that around 150 people were murdered inside the prison, with their bodies being burnt or broken down in acid-filled tanks before the remains were disposed of in a river some 20 miles away from the jail.
It is not clear to what extent the prison’s official guards actively cooperated with gang members or whether they merely allowed them to act with impunity in exchange for keeping order among inmates.
But prosecutors have revealed that Zetas’ prison leaders dressed up in uniforms as the prison’s de facto security force, wearing bulletproof vests and driving customised vehicles.
“We have received information that in this place was governed autonomously by the Zetas,” a spokesman for the Coahuila state prosecution force said on Wednesday after an investigation based on the testimony of 42 prisoners who were being held in Piedras Negras during that period.
NYT – A new report by the Open Society Justice Initiative, which works on criminal justice reforms around the world, points to a pattern of indiscriminate force and impunity that is an integral part of Mexican policy. And in the framework of international law, the study argues, the killings, forced disappearances and torture constitute crimes against humanity.
Indian Country Today – Human rights advocates are calling for the immediate release of an Indigenous “prisoner of conscience” in Mexico who is an activist jailed on charges they assert were created to hide the fact that the man was fighting illegal logging in his region. In November 2015, Mexican authorities arrested Ildefonso Zamora in the Indigenous Tlahuica community of San Juan Atzingo on charges of participating in a burglary.
Reuters – Mexican brokerages are pushing back against a massive government data request that aims to uncover possible tax evasion, a document showed, after the “Panama Papers” cast a spotlight on how the world’s rich and famous hide their wealth.
By Arturo Angel and Victor Hugo Arteaga / Animal Politico
Officials close to the governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, gave contracts to a network of ghost for the purchase of products to be used for vulnerable companies, but never reached their destination.
The procedure was simple: the start of the presidential term is selected PRI vote promoters are asked to provide signatures used to create new businesses. These companies were assigned a false tax domicile, that no authority reviews.
Once created, the companies were recorded as government suppliers, able to sell items from diapers to cement.
A small group of officials, close to the governor, ensured that contracts are awarded via direct awards or closed tenders. After getting the money, the companies closed.
Veracruz’s government used this same procedure over and over again, spending 645 million pesos ($34.9 million) between 2012 and 2013.
In those years, administration officials in Veracruz Javier Duarte signed 73 contracts for the purchase and distribution of goods which, on paper, would go to people in poverty, victims of natural disasters, children and elderly. But there is no evidence that they were delivered.
NBC – In the hours after 43 students at the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Mexico went missing, Carmelo Ramirez Morales sped to the scene where the students were taken away and gave a late-night press conference to local journalists. Then he hid from a hail of bullets. Now he is applying for asylum in Minnesota.
EFE – Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission said it was investigating dozens of cases of alleged torture and mistreatment of suspects arrested for their purported involvement in the September 2014 disappearance of 43 trainee teachers.
A U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday that it is troubled by a group of international experts’ complaints of obstacles to their investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico.
Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement that the office is “concerned about the many challenges and obstacles reported by the experts,” including the ability to examine other lines of investigation such the possible roles of the military and other officials in the case.
He called on the Mexican government to “take into serious consideration” the recommendations of the group of experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The group’s report from Sunday criticized the government’s investigation of the 2014 disappearances. It said suspects were apparently tortured and key pieces of evidence were not investigated or handled properly.
NYT -Fears are raising that in spite of its handling of the case of the missing 43 students, which was recently criticized by an international panel of experts, the government will face few political consequences.
The Sun Daily – Independent experts investigating the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico threatened Wednesday to stop working with government authorities, accusing them of manipulating the probe for political ends.