One needn’t look much farther than social media (or some of the comments on Mexico News Daily) to be aware that the presumption of innocence is a foreign concept for many.
Now there are elements within the federal government that don’t respect that presumption either, according to Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero.
The attorney general’s claim came in response to a question asked at a gathering of diplomats in Mexico City.
“The Attorney General’s Office as an autonomous entity has been very respectful of the presumption of innocence . . . [but] there are elements, not in the Attorney General’s Office, but in the government that don’t respect that presumption,” he responded.
“. . . We have it very clear, we don’t make . . . assertions that go against the presumption of innocence,” Gertz Manero said, adding that statements of such a nature are not legitimate and create a “serious crisis” in the process of prosecuting a suspected criminal.
The attorney general declined to name the “elements” to which he was referring but added that “we all know” who they are.
One of the people Gertz Manero is believed to have been referring to is Santiago Nieto, head of the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF).
Nieto, who was fired from his role as the top electoral crimes prosecutor in the previous government, has taken on a leading role in the fight against corruption initiated by the current administration and spoken out about several investigations conducted by the UIF.
He has revealed at press conferences that the UIF has frozen or requested the freezing of bank accounts held by high-profile figures including former cabinet secretary Rosario Robles, ex-Pemex chief Emilio Lozoya and former Pemex workers’ union leader Carlos Romero Deschamps.
Nieto also announced that the UIF has blocked 11 accounts linked to former security secretary Genaro García Luna – currently in negotiation with United States authorities to change a not guilty plea to drug trafficking conspiracy – and referred him to the FGR for the possible embezzlement of billions of pesos.
Constitutional lawyer Alberto Woolrich told the newspaper Milenio that the freezing of accounts in itself is not a violation of the presumption of innocence because the UIF has a legal right to freeze accounts until it can verify the origin of funds they hold.
“It’s a means created . . . to avoid [money] laundering so there is not a lack of respect for the presumption of innocence,” he said.
In turn, a criminal lawyer who requested anonymity expressed skepticism that merely speaking out about a current investigation amounted to disrespecting a person’s right to the presumption of innocence.
“. . . It’s one thing to say that we’re investigating to find out if a crime was committed and another thing to say that [a person] committed a crime,” the lawyer told Milenio.
However, the lawyer conceded that statements made about investigations could act as a hindrance to probes being conducted by the FGR.
In contrast to those views, National Action Party Senator Xóchitl Gálvez charged that the government is using the UIF to carry out a campaign of “fiscal terrorism.”
“. . . I think that it should be more discreet,” she said.
The Democratic Revolution Party expressed a similar sentiment, asserting in a statement that President López Obrador uses the UIF to carry out revenge attacks on his political enemies.
Responding to Gertz Manero’s insinuations, López Obrador defended Nieto at his morning press conference on Thursday.
“Santiago doesn’t do anything without consulting with the president, you can’t blame him. Speaking frankly, imagine if I, here, devoted myself to reporting about money laundering, it’s not my job, another public servant has to do it as long as it doesn’t affect due process. We’re obliged to act with adherence to the law, it’s a matter of coming to an agreement [with the FGR],” he said.
Yet according to the operating guidelines established by the international network of UIFs, they should operate autonomously and independently, which would likely rule out consultations with the president.
Meanwhile, López Obrador himself has come very close to disrespecting the presumption of innocence if he hasn’t actually crossed the line.
At a press conference on January 2, López Obrador questioned where García Luna’s wealth could have come from if he didn’t accept bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel as the United States government alleges.
“Where did [his] houses and apartments come from,” he asked.
López Obrador has also insinuated that former president Felipe Calderón was complicit with organized crime although he has ruled out an investigation in relation to the charges against his security secretary “because it would create the perception that we’re doing it for political purposes.”