The federal government detected a scheme in which the 2012–2018 Chiapas government led by Green Party (PVEM) governor Manuel Velasco appeared to embezzle more than 500 million pesos of public money, but it has not initiated legal action against any officials who served in the administration, according to an anti-graft group.
In a report published Sunday, Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) said the Federal Tax Administration (SAT) detected “irregular operations” carried out by the Velasco government between 2019 and 2020. It discovered the operations in audits of six companies that have been identified as shell or ghost firms.
MCCI, which obtained SAT documents, said its reporters visited the addresses listed for the supposed partners of the companies in Chiapas and Morelos and found that “humble” people with no business interests lived at them. Their identities were presumably stolen, MCCI said, adding that the tax addresses didn’t correspond to companies either.
“In one case, the address is a house with a sheet metal roof, and in another it’s a vacant lot,” the group said.
The amount allegedly embezzled via contracts awarded to the ghost companies for a wide range of goods and services is equivalent to about US $25 million at today’s exchange rate.
Not only has the federal government not launched legal action in relation to the alleged misappropriation of government money, the MCCI noted, the ruling Morena party in March formalized an electoral alliance with the PVEM, who Velasco now represents as a federal senator.
“This agreement was made … when the administration of [President] López Obrador already knew of the diversion of resources in Velasco’s government,” the group said.
As a result of the alliance, the PVEM is expected to increase the number of seats it holds in the lower house of federal Congress to 43 from 11. Speaking last Sunday — the day federal, state and municipal elections were held — Velasco spoke out in favor of the PVEM’s alliance with Morena, a partnership that allows the latter to keep its majority in the Chamber of Deputies.
A lawyer for the former governor distanced him from involvement in the alleged embezzlement scheme, telling MCCI that Velasco was not aware of all the transactions carried out by his government because he delegated decisions to members of his cabinet.
“When a person wins the executive tenure [governorship] of a state by popular election, it’s his obligation to put together a cabinet. Each [government] department has its own budgetary autonomy,” José Luis Nassar said, adding that Velasco didn’t have time to carry out his duties as governor and supervise how ministries were spending the public money at their disposal.
Among the government departments that allegedly diverted resources to ghost companies were the Development Ministry, the Security Ministry and the Ministry for Women’s Empowerment.
Nassar said he was in favor of an investigation and punishment of officials if it is determined that money was indeed stolen.
The MCCI’s revelation of the SAT’s detection of apparent embezzlement comes almost a year after two videos surfaced showing David León, an advisor to Velasco’s government, giving large sums of money in 2015 to Pío López Obrador, the president’s brother.
MCCI insinuated that the 1.4 million pesos given to the president’s brother in the two videos was embezzled public money.
The anti-graft group said it had contacted León, who said he didn’t work for the Chiapas government or as an advisor to Velasco and therefore didn’t know whether public money was diverted via ghost companies.
“However, there are journalists who have confirmed that when Velasco was governor, it was David León who contacted them in his name,” MCCI said.
“With respect to his participation in the videos with Pío López Obrador and the origin of the money delivered for [Morena party] campaigns, León said that he cannot speak about it because there is an open investigation,” it said.
President López Obrador has claimed that the money that his brother received consisted of “contributions” from ordinary people who supported the Morena party.
MCCI noted that the Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF) also detected a separate alleged embezzlement scheme that appeared to divert 685 million pesos to 26 presumed ghost companies during Velasco’s term as governor.
“Together, the irregular payments to ghost companies reported by the ASF previously and by the SAT now add up to about 1.18 billion pesos [US $ 59.4 million] during Velasco’s government,” it said.
Mexico News Daily