Wednesday, June 19, 2024

80 politicians and families among 3,000 Mexicans who used foreign tax havens

Political figures and members of their families are among more than 3,000 Mexicans who appear in the Pandora Papers, the biggest ever trove of leaked data exposing tax haven secrecy.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists obtained more than 11.9 million confidential files and led a team of more than 600 journalists from 150 news outlets who spent two years sifting through them. Many of their findings were published Sunday.

Journalists from four media outlets contributed to reports that focused on Mexicans who shifted some of their wealth to tax havens such as the Bahamas, Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Panama and the U.S. state of Delaware.

A report published by Quinto Elemento Lab said journalists from that investigative news website as well as news magagine Proceso, the newspaper El País and the broadcaster Univisión reviewed the Pandora Papers over a period of many months and found that 3,047 Mexicans or residents of Mexico have interests in almost 2,000 “hard to trace” offshore companies, trusts and foundations located in 22 different jurisdictions.

Among them are more than 80 people who are political figures or members of their families.

The president's former legal counsel, Julio Scherer
The president’s former legal counsel, Julio Scherer, has an interest in a US $1.5-million Miami apartment.

“The Pandora Papers investigation discovers that Mexicans have created shell companies to buy luxurious properties, private jets and yachts, to pay less tax, to manage fortunes and inheritances, … to manage investments, open bank accounts and to put aside profits from their businesses,” the Quinto Elemento Lab report said.

Transferring wealth into offshore entities is not a crime in itself, the report said. However, “in many cases their opacity allows the commission of crimes such as money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.”

“In Mexico it is not illegal to have front companies to … store wealth outside the country … but the use of offshore companies can be particularly controversial in the case of politicians and public officials because they can use them to hide money and assets from bribes or the diversion of public resources. This is of particular interest in nations such as Mexico where corruption is rampant and the government has done a bad job preventing these abuses,” the report said.

“… Twenty of the 80 politicians and families who appear in the Pandora Papers moved in recent decades about US $30 million to jurisdictions that offer tax privileges.”

The political figures/family members named in the report are:

  • Julio Scherer Ibarra, President López Obrador’s former legal counsel.
  • Jorge Arganis Díaz Leal, federal communications and transportation minister.
  • Armando Guadiana Tijerina, a federal senator for the ruling Morena party.
  • Julia Elena Abdala Lemus, a businesswoman and partner of Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) chief Manuel Bartlett.
  • Enrique Martinez y Martinez, former Institutional Revolutionary (PRI) governor of Coahuila and an ex-federal agriculture minister.
  • Arturo Montiel Yañez, son of former PRI governor of México state Arturo Montiel Rojas.
  • Jesús Murillo Ortega, son of former PRI governor of Hidalgo and ex-attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam.
  • Francisco Labastida Gómez de la Torre, son of former PRI governor of Sinaloa and ex-interior minister Francisco Labastida Ochoa.
  • Marcelo and Carlos de los Santos, sons of former National Action Party governor of San Luis Potosí Jesús Marcelo de los Santos Fraga.
  • Fernanda Castillo Cuevas, wife of current PRI governor of México state Alfredo del Mazo.
  • Paulina Díaz Ordaz, granddaughter of former president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and wife of Green party politician Jesús Sesma.
  • Juan Ignacio García Zalvidea, a former federal deputy and mayor of Cancún.

Other people partially identified but not named include the Coahuila government secretary, the head of the office of Morelos Governor Cuahtémoc Blanco and the brother of a former governor of Yucatán.

Scherer, who resigned as the president’s legal adviser last month, is a large shareholder in a company domiciled in the British Virgin Islands that controls another company that owns a US $1.5 million apartment in Miami, the Quinta Elemento Lab report said.

He told the investigative journalists he has always acted in accordance with the law and would continue to do so.

The journalists determined that the other political figures had interests in companies, trusts or other entities in jurisdictions including the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and Panama.

Arganis, who became communications and transportation minister last year, denied any wrongdoing and asserted that he had in fact lost money he invested because he was defrauded. He invested 3 million pesos (US $146,000) in a Ponzi scheme run by Texan financier Allen Stanford, who was convicted of fraud and sentenced in 2012 to 110 years in jail.

Senator Armando Guadiana
Senator Armando Guadiana said he lost money in his offshore investment.

Senator Guadiana also said he had lost money via a trust apparently set up to fund a coal mine project in Colombia.

Abdala, who owns 10,000 shares in a Panamanian shell company, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Her husband, a former interior minister and governor of Puebla, has been accused of corruption but the Ministry of Public Administration determined that the current CFE director has no case to answer.

The total number of Mexicans and Mexico residents who appear in the Pandora Papers is 10 times higher than the number who appear in the Panama Papers, a similar trove of more than 11 million documents published in 2016.

President López Obrador said Monday he was in favor of Mexicans named in the Pandora Papers being investigated. The government’s Financial Intelligence Unit said Sunday it had launched an investigation in light of their publication.

With reports from Quinto Elemento Lab and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists 

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