President López Obrador has repeatedly pledged to eliminate government corruption, but his administration has dragged its feet in investigating extortion allegations against a high-ranking official.
The national director of the DIF family services agency, an ally of the president, is accused of leading an elaborate extortion scheme at the department she heads.
María del Rocío García Pérez and two other high-ranking DIF officials forced more than 1,000 employees to give them 2–4% of their monthly salaries, according to a report by the news website Animal Político, which obtained complaints filed by employees and collected testimonies from six past and present workers.
García allegedly told the employees that making the payments, which ranged from 500 to 2,500 pesos (US $25-$125) per month, was a condition for maintaining their jobs at the agency. She and the other officials who allegedly participated in the extortion scheme could have received as much as 658,400 pesos (US $32,500) a month from 1,002 employees, Animal Político said.
The news website reported that the Ministry of Public Administration (SFP) — which serves as the government’s internal corruption watchdog — only opened an investigation into the allegations on April 23, even though it first received complaints against García last July.
The SFP was asked why it took so long to open an investigation but only responded that it couldn’t comment on an ongoing investigation.
Animal Político said the origins of the extortion scheme can be traced back to a meeting that took place less than four months into López Obrador’s six-year term, which began in December 2018. Senior DIF officials were invited to meet with García, who was in a federal government position for the first time, having been appointed by the president, for whom she worked when he was mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005.
The senior officials, who were asked not to take their phones to the meeting, were allegedly told by García that DIF had expenses that were not covered by its budget and therefore they and other employees would have to reach into their own pockets and make cash contributions.
The money, they were told, would go to the Programa Ahijado, or Godson Program, of which there is no official record. García allegedly told the senior officials that they would have to collect and pass on cash payments from their inferiors.
The officials were allegedly given a printout of the rates DIF employees were required to pay depending on their position at the agency. Animal Político said three DIF employees included the printout in their testimonies.
In one complaint submitted to the SFP, a DIF employee said the money contributed to the Godson Program was deposited to debit cards that can be purchased at convenience stores or to accounts belonging to García’s children or other relatives. DIF employees don’t know how the money was used, Animal Político said, although on one occasion they were told their contributions would go to victims of Hurricane Eta.
All of the testimonies collected state that García used her apparent longstanding friendship with López Obrador and his wife to intimidate employees.
“… Rocío García reiterates at every opportunity her close friendship with President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador and his wife, Beatriz Gutiérrez Müller, [from when] he was mayor,” Animal Político said.
According to employees’ testimonies, she used that apparent closeness to claim that she was “untouchable” — that is, she could act as she wished without consequence. García allegedly claimed that all her decisions and proposals were endorsed by Gutiérrez and that “nobody wants problems with the wife of the president.”
García, a sociology graduate who earns about 144,000 pesos (US $7,100) a month in wages and benefits, has never previously headed up a company or government department, and none of her work experience has been related to children and adolescents, with whom DIF routinely deals.
Animal Político requested an interview with the DIF chief about the accusations she faces but was denied that opportunity. García did, however, send a statement to the website saying that she was not aware of any investigation against her, suggesting that neither the SFP nor any other federal government department has summoned her to give an account of her side of the story.
Source: Animal Político (sp)