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anti-corruption

Fighting corruption: analysts criticize government’s approach

It's more like a witch hunt, says one, warning that politicization puts prosecution at risk

Three corruption analysts have criticized the federal government’s approach to combating corruption, charging that it should broaden its focus beyond high-profile former officials and make greater use of the National Anti-corruption System (SNA).

Maureen Meyer, vice president for programs and director for Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), said President López Obrador uses powerful rhetoric to denounce corruption but charged that he hasn’t shown strong support for nor interest in the SNA, which was partially set up by the previous federal government but remains incomplete.

She told the newspaper El Economista that the president has expressed support for the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) in its emblematic cases against corruption – such as those against former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya and ex-cabinet minister Rosario Robles – but added that he needs to do more to ensure that Mexico’s corruption fighting bodies have the resources they need.

Meyer said neither the SNA nor the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Combatting Corruption currently have sufficient funding and noted that López Obrador – who says that eliminating corruption is his top priority – has not made all the necessary appointments to the former.

The WOLA vice president also said the FGR needs to go beyond conducting high-profile corruption probes and investigate cases in which lesser known former government officials were involved.

Meyer added that the FGR should also be investigating acts of corruption allegedly committed by current government officials and members of the ruling Morena party.

She said that the progress made in the Lozoya case – the former Pemex CEO recently submitted a document to the FGR in which he accuses three past presidents and several former officials of corruption – and other high-profile cases will only be important if those who committed crimes are actually punished.

Sarahí Salvatierra, a researcher at the Fundar Center for Analysis and Research who specializes in corruption and transparency issues, also charged that the government has not made good use of the SNA and the Special Prosecutor’s Office, noting that the budget of the latter has been slashed by 70%.

She told El Economista that the government has relied chiefly on the FGR, the Ministry of Public Administration and the Finance Ministry’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) to fight corruption.

Salvatierra said the work of the UIF, which has conducted investigations into money laundering offenses allegedly committed by former officials including Lozoya, has been important but claimed that it has failed to collaborate effectively with other agencies to strengthen cases against those it accuses of corruption.

“This government has opted for a segmented strategy,” she said.

emilio lozoya
Fighting corruption should go beyond the high-profile cases such as that of Lozoya (pictured), says one observer.

Salvatierra was also critical of the government’s apparent decision to focus mainly on prosecuting high-profile government officials rather than functionaries of all levels. She charged that the approach was akin to a “witch hunt” and won’t be effective in destroying corruption rings that may still exist within the government.

In the investigation into the so-called “Master Fraud” embezzlement scheme in which government departments allegedly misappropriated billions of pesos during the administration of former president Enrique Peña Nieto, the current government has only focused on prosecuting Robles and not other officials who participated in the diversion of resources, Salvatierra said.

The Fundar researcher criticized the government for politicizing high-profile corruption cases, such as that against Lozoya, and charged that it has contributed to the creation of a media circus around them. As a result, investigations and the prosecution of crimes are being placed at risk, she said.

“In the end, … crimes and those who committed them [could] go unpunished,” Salvatierra said.

Luis Ángel Martínez Ramírez, a corruption and transparency expert at the Ethos Public Policy Laboratory, was also critical of the government for not making use of the National Anti-corruption System.

He said the SNA also has a national anti-corruption policy that the López Obrador administration has not made use of. The policy says that government and civil society should work together to combat corruption but the president has ignored the advice, Martínez told El Economista.

He also said the policy establishes that corruption cases can be prosecuted in both criminal and administrative courts. However, prosecution in the latter is not possible because López Obrador has not fulfilled his obligation to name 18 anti-corruption judges to the Federal Tribunal of Administrative Justice, Martínez said.

Echoing Salvatierra’s remarks, the corruption expert said the government has politicized the cases against Lozoya and Robles and charged that it has handled them in a messy way.

Martínez said that remarks López Obrador has made about the Lozoya case – he has called on his two most recent predecessors to testify – may have even violated due process and as a result put a guilty verdict against the former Pemex chief and those he accuses at risk.

He said the president’s calls for all evidence in the Lozoya case to be made public and the subsequent leaking of a video showing former Senate officials receiving large amounts of cash and the former Pemex CEO’s deposition to the FGR undermined the legal process.

“We’re losing a unique opportunity to combat corruption, … when everything was leaked, everything was contaminated. … It’s a political soap opera more than a legal process,” Martínez said.

He was also critical of López Obrador’s plan to hold a public consultation to decide if past presidents should be brought to justice for crimes they allegedly committed while in office, describing the proposal as “very worrying.”

He charged that the president’s motivation is political, designed to win votes at next year’s midterm elections, and claimed that he planned to hold the referendum on the same day that voters will go to the polls.

López Obrador said this week that the consultation would go ahead if the Supreme Court rules that such a vote is constitutional. However, he said he would personally vote against prosecuting his predecessors because he favors looking to the future rather than the past.

“I don’t want people to think that I’m an executioner, revenge is not my strong point,” the president explained.

Source: El Economista (sp) 

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