The governor of Chihuahua has accused the federal government of withholding funds promised to the state in retaliation for an investigation into corruption allegedly committed by members of Mexico’s ruling party.
In a press conference yesterday, Javier Corral said that during a January 4 meeting the federal finance secretary told him directly that the cash-strapped state would not get the money pledged by the Mexican government unless Chihuahua officials revealed more details about its investigation.
State prosecutors are investigating the embezzlement of more than US $10 million in public funds during the term of Corral’s predecessor, César Duarte, currently a fugitive from justice in the United States.
The Chihuahua government claims the money was used to fund the political campaigns of candidates from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) at state elections held in June 2016. Corral, representing a coalition led by the National Action Party (PAN), toppled the PRI to win the governor’s office.
In response to the corruption probe, the federal government has refused to transfer the 700 million pesos (US $36.2 million) it promised, Corral said. The state has only received one of the agreed payments for around US $1 million, he added.
Corral also said that Finance Secretary José Antonio González Anaya made no attempt to conceal the government’s motive for withholding the money and that he interpreted the measure as direct pressure designed to put an end to the corruption investigation.
“It’s clear that there is an intention to strangle us economically . . .” Corral said.
“It’s very serious that the secretariat of finance confirmed [its actions] as an instrument of political control against the governors . . .” he declared.
But Corral made it clear to reporters gathered at a Mexico City hotel that his government would not give in to the demands.
“What I immediately pointed out is that we were not going to exchange privileged knowledge from the Public Prosecutor’s Office for an allocation of resources that belongs to the state of Chihuahua . . .” the governor said.
“We’re not going to allow them to threaten the people of Chihuahua because the government is combating corruption,” he added.
More than two dozen people have already been arrested in relation to the investigation including Alejandro Gutiérrez, a former federal politician and secretary general for the PRI who was detained on December 20.
Gutiérrez, a close ally of President Enrique Peña Nieto, is accused of operating the alleged embezzlement scheme in collaboration with Manlio Fabio Beltrones, a former PRI president who remains an influential powerbroker in the party.
Beltrones has sought an amparo, or injunction, in order to gain access to the files related to the investigation.
In the lead-up to the July 1 presidential election, in which corruption is certain to be a key issue, analysts say that the incumbent PRI is desperate to contain any new scandals.
The so-called master fraud embezzlement scheme, the use of spyware to monitor government critics and the “Casa Blanca” affair, in which a government contractor built a home for Peña Nieto’s family, are among the high-profile scandals that have plagued the current administration.
One of the key reasons why former finance secretary José Antonio Meade is almost certain to be the PRI candidate at this year’s presidential election is because he is untainted by corruption scandals.
In response to Corral’s accusations, Peña Nieto said the governor was politically motivated.
“. . . it was a [press] conference that seemed more a political act . . .” the president said.
The SHCP also rejected the governor’s charge, stating that the money promised to Chihuahua had been transferred in a timely manner.
But Corral didn’t waver, telling reporters that the corruption probe and his refusal to go along with the federal government’s demands had clearly touched a nerve but he wouldn’t be deterred from continuing the fight against corruption.
“We are aware that we struck at the modus operandi of political corruption in Mexico, but the difference is that we accounted for it technically and legally,” the governor said.
“We won’t give up the fight to break the pact of impunity, regardless of the retaliation and punishment.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this story stated that elections had been held in June last year. In fact, they were held in June 2016.