President-elect López Obrador has labelled the criminal case against former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte a circus and a sham and declared that the punishment he received — widely considered as overly lenient — is indicative of entrenched corruption in the political system.
Duarte, who is estimated to have embezzled billions of pesos in state money while in office between 2010 and 2016, was sentenced in a federal court Wednesday to nine years in prison for money laundering and criminal association but will be eligible to seek parole in just over three years.
The court ordered a fine of just 58,890 pesos (US $3,140) and the seizure of 41 properties the ex-governor owned.
However, the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) didn’t seek monetary reparations for the state funds he illegally diverted.
López Obrador told a press conference in Mexico City yesterday that the PGR, which agreed to Duarte’s request for an abbreviated procedure that allowed him to avoid an oral trial, had failed in its investigation and that prosecutors didn’t present all the evidence against the former governor.
“It’s nothing but a circus . . . How many lines [were written about it], how much ink, how many words, how many images . . . how much show was there about these matters for it to end in a sentence like the one that was handed down?” López Obrador asked.
“The prosecutors didn’t present all the evidence, more than anything what they were looking for was scandal, a spectacle, a show . . . in a corrupt system, there’s no way that they’re going to take punishing the corrupt seriously,” he said.
The president-elect also took aim at lawmakers for not passing laws that stipulate harsher penalties for corruption.
“Don’t you think that’s strange, odd, inconceivable? How many deputies and senators have passed [through the system] and not made a reform so that robbery, embezzlement and corruption are considered serious crimes?”
To remedy the situation, López Obrador said that the party he leads — Morena — has already presented a bill in Congress to make penalties for corruption tougher.
“. . . We’re proposing now that corruption be considered a serious crime and that he who commits the crime be punished severely. If there is not the political will, which there hasn’t been, it’s nothing but a circus,” he said.
During his government, López Obrador added, “this [impunity] is going to end.”
Veracruz Governor Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares was one of many others who were also highly critical of the leniency of the nine-year sentence Duarte received.
The National Action Party (PAN) governor yesterday declared that the sentence was more like a pardon, describing it as an outrage to all the citizens of Veracruz.
Authorities in that state are also pursuing Duarte on charges of enforced disappearance, embezzlement and misuse of powers and Yunes said that he hoped more years would be added to the ex-governor’s sentence.
Omar Miranda Romero, leader of the PAN in Veracruz, demanded that the actions of the PGR in relation to the case be reviewed.
He said it was clear that a pact had been made between the federal government led by President Peña Nieto and former governor Duarte that resulted in the lenient sentence.
“. . . We’re not judges but we know that Javier Duarte’s time in Veracruz was devastating, it destroyed families, it ruined the future of millions of veracruzanos, it closed the doors to the present and future for thousands of children in our state,” Miranda said.
The president of Veracruz’s top court said that he was surprised by the short length of the sentence although he added that he respected the judges’ ruling and the criteria under which it was made.
“As a veracruzano, logically it seems very little [time] to me [but] more than anything I don’t agree with the [absence of] reparations for damages,” Edel Álvarez Peña said.
Anaís Palacios Pérez, an official at the Mexican Institute of Human Rights and Democracy, said the PGR must act immediately against Duarte to seek justice for the cases of enforced disappearances of which he is accused.
The president of the Veracruz Congress, María Elisa Manterola Sáinz, said Duarte deserved a sentence of 90 years rather than nine.
Federal prosecutor Felipe de Jesús Muñoz Vázquez said yesterday that the PGR continues to seek to execute arrest warrants against former state government officials who served during the administration of Javier Duarte and allegedly participated in the ex-governor’s embezzlement scheme.
López Obrador’s nominee for secretary of public security, Alfonso Durazo, said last night that an extradition request could be made for Duarte’s wife Karime Macías, who is believed to be living a life of luxury in London, England.