More than 2,700 customs agents have been dismissed for corruption since the current government took office in late 2018, but none has been formally charged or taken into custody.
Customs chief Horacio Duarte told a press conference at Mexico City airport on Tuesday that 2,712 customs agents have been fired during the past three years and 39 formal criminal complaints have been filed with the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR).
“[But] as far as I know, there are no detainees,” he said.
Duarte, who became customs chief in April last year, said he was unaware what progress the FGR had made with its investigations into the 39 criminal complaints filed against customs agents.
“… We file the complaints and then it’s up to … the FGR to carry out the procedural activities to determine the responsibility … of the officials,” he said.
Duarte noted that the bank accounts of 12 customs administrators were frozen after the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit detected suspicious transactions but said he didn’t know whether any further action had been taken against them.
He conceded that many customs agents are in cahoots with organized crime, but emphasized that seizures of fentanyl, weapons and cartridges have all increased.
The main reason for Duarte’s appearance at the airport was to announce that Mexico would implement the World Customs Organization’s anti-corruption and integrity promotion program.
He said that corruption has a corrosive effect on entire countries and their institutions, noting that it results in the diversion of public resources that could have otherwise been allocated to development and the provision of basic services.
“Added to this, corruption weakens the public perception of governments, favors the development of organized crime, generates a sentiment of iniquity … and in economic terms discourages foreign investment. In a nutshell, corruption undermines democracy and public life,” Duarte said.
“In this context, the government of Mexico, and customs in particular, have sent a clear message of zero corruption and zero impunity,” he said — even though the punishment of corrupt customs agents doesn’t go beyond the loss of their jobs.
The military was given administrative control of Mexico’s customs offices and ports last year as part of efforts to stamp out corruption at ports of entry.