Thursday, June 20, 2024

Ex-Pemex head was in on systematic looting of country: attorney general

Former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya – arrested on Wednesday in the south of Spain – was part of a scheme designed to “loot” Mexico, according to Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero.

Gertz told the newspaper Reforma that the state oil company’s purchase of a disused fertilizer plant in Veracruz for the allegedly vastly inflated price of US $475 million when Lozoya was CEO – a transaction from which the ex-official allegedly received millions of dollars himself – was one of a series of fraudulent cases in which the former official was involved.

“I don’t believe that this is an isolated case … It was conduct that was repeated in a very structured way with the aim of looting the country. I don’t see any other way to describe it,” he said.

Lozoya, CEO of Pemex between 2012 and 2016, allegedly received $10 million in bribes from Brazilian construction conglomerate Odebrecht in exchange for the awarding of a lucrative contract for work on the state oil company’s refinery in Tula, Hidalgo.

The government alleges that $4 million of that amount came his way in March 2012 when the ex-official was working on the campaign of former president Enrique Peña Nieto, and some of the funds were allegedly funneled to the campaign, an accusation still under investigation by authorities.

Pemex’s purchases of other fertilizer plants when Lozoya was CEO, including one in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán, owned by the company Fertinal, are also under investigation.

The head of the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit said Wednesday that Lozoya was part of a sophisticated money laundering ring that transferred tens of millions of dollars to several countries. His arrest means that “the party is over,” Santiago Nieto said.

Information supplied to Spanish authorities by the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) alleges that Lozoya benefited from fraudulent activity to the tune of $280 million.

Acting on an international warrant obtained by the Mexican government for Lozoya’s role in the purchase of the Veracruz fertilizer plant, Spanish police arrested the former Pemex CEO in the southern port city of Málaga as he left an upscale residential estate in a taxi.

When he was stopped by police, Lozoya reportedly showed them a fake driver’s license issued in Mexico City.

He appeared in a Spanish court on Thursday via video link and refused immediate extradition to Mexico. Judge Ismael Moreno ordered Lozoya to remain in provisional custody on the grounds that he is a flight risk and told him that the charges he faces warrant up to 15 years imprisonment in Spain.

Gertz Manero, left: 'looting the country; and Nieto: 'party's over.'
Gertz Manero, left: ‘looting the country; and Nieto: ‘party’s over.’

Mexico now has a period of 40 days within which it can formally seek the extradition of Lozoya to Mexico.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Wednesday that the department he heads will seek to move quickly in order to have the former official returned to Mexico, where warrants have been issued for his arrest on charges of bribery, criminal association and conducting operations with resources of illicit origin.

Shortly after the announcement of Lozoya’s arrest, his lawyer in Mexico said that his client is convinced that the case against him has no foundation.

Javier Coello said later that there is “conclusive” evidence that Lozoya “didn’t manage on his own” the fraudulent activities of which he is accused.

“In the purchase of the plants, I can guarantee that the [former] president Peña [Nieto] was well-informed, he was part of the pact,” he said.

Asserting that “everything” will be revealed in due course, Coello said that he approved of the government’s intention to “clear all this up and combat corruption.”

However, he added that there shouldn’t be “selective justice” – everyone involved in corruption should be held to account.

Reforma reported that former finance and foreign affairs secretary Luis Videgaray and two other former Pemex CEOs, including Lozoya’s successor José Antonio González Anaya, could also be implicated in the corruption of which the ex-official is accused.

Coello said that he would travel to Spain on Thursday and advise him to fight against extradition to Mexico because he’s been made “an icon of corruption here.”

Gertz said that it was unclear how long the process to extradite both Lozoya and the owner and president of the company that sold the Veracruz plant to Pemex – who was arrested in Spain last year – would take.

As things currently stand, Mexico can only apply for Lozoya’s extradition in connection with the case against him for the purchase of the fertilizer plant, he said.

However, the attorney general added that the FGR will seek to broaden the extradition case against him to include other alleged crimes, including the taking of bribes from Odebrecht.

Source: Reforma (sp), El Economista (sp), Milenio (sp)  

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