New Zealand cattle arriving in Sinaloa in 2015. New Zealand cattle arriving in Sinaloa in 2015.

Duarte accused of being cattle thief too

Animals were supposed to go to small farmers hurt by drought

Former Chihuahua governor César Duarte wasn’t just an embezzler, according to a non-governmental organization, but a cattle rustler as well.

In addition to allegedly embezzling millions of pesos, Duarte stole cattle, at least 900 head that were bought by the state government for small producers affected by drought.

It was not reported whether the drought had hurt the ranches owned by Duarte, but that is where many of the cattle finished up. Other government officials also got some, according to an investigation by Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI), which said a further 682 head went to associates in Nayarit.

The former head of the state housing commission, Raúl Javalera, and relatives of the former governor of Nayarit, Roberto Sandoval, were among the beneficiaries. (Like Duarte, Sandoval too is under investigation for corruption.)

In the middle of 2014, the Chihuahua government announced a breeding program to repopulate drought-stricken farms by crossbreeding local cattle with foreign livestock.

The government consequently paid US $700,000 (11 million pesos at the time) to import over 1,500 head of beef cattle, including Hereford and Angus breeds. They arrived in Sinaloa from New Zealand in June 2015.

Many of the imported cows were already pregnant when they arrived, which raised the hopes of beef producers thinking they would get two head of cattle instead of one for the same price. But only 145 of the animals actually made it to the ranches of Chihuahua cattle producers and many of the farmers who had forked over 20,000 pesos per head never received the cows they had paid for.

According to an investigation by the current Chihuahua government, the intermediary for the deal was a cattle-buying company founded in 2005 by César Duarte and a former federal congressman.

Its job was to offer credits to the small producers and distribute the animals to ranches across the state. The company’s legal representative was Duarte’s nephew by marriage to his wife Bertha Gómez.

But the majority of the cattle were distributed to Duarte’s own ranch or those of his friends and associates, the MCCI investigation claims.

In October 2016, cattle trucks were detected trying to avoid federal Agriculture Secretariat checkpoints and cattle in one of them — destined for a ranch owned by Roberto Sandoval’s brother, Raymundo — were identified as part of the herd that was imported from New Zealand.

The driver wasn’t carrying documentation to verify the ownership of the livestock but many of the animals were marked with the branding of Duarte’s ranch.

Considered a fugitive from justice, Duarte is believed to have been in the United States since he fled to El Paso, Texas in March this year and has continued to evade capture although authorities said in July that they believed he would be apprehended soon.

Source: Reforma (sp)

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