The federal government’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) has unblocked 44 bank accounts of a Chihuahua municipal council led by a mayor who has participated in protests against the diversion of water to the United States.
The UIF sent an official letter dated September 14 to the National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV) advising it that the bank accounts of the Delicias government, which were only recently blocked, had been unfrozen.
It said the accounts were unblocked because resources contained in them were essential for the council’s activities.
The municipal government of Delicias, led by National Action Party (PAN) Mayor Eliseo Compeán, had demanded that its accounts be unblocked so that it could pay salaries to 1,200 employees and purchase gasoline for police cars and council vehicles.
Compeán, who has joined recent protests against the National Water Commission’s diversion of water from the La Boquilla dam to the United States to settle a longstanding water debt, said Monday that there was just over 87.2 million pesos (US $4.15 million) in the 44 accounts.
In addition to demanding that they be unblocked, the mayor sought information from the UIF about why three of his personal accounts, containing a total of just over 72,000 pesos (US $3,400), had also been frozen.
Compeán himself called the move political persecution. The UIF also froze the accounts of former Chihuahua governor José Reyes Baeza and Chihuahua Irrigation Association President Salvador Alcántar.
Along with Mayor Compeán, they have been accused by the federal government of being behind the Boquilla dam protests.
Earlier the UIF publicly denied freezing the accounts of the municipality, a position contradicted by its letter to the CNBV.
“It’s interesting because the UIF had released a statement saying that the accounts in Delicias were not blocked,” a source close to the case told the newspaper Reforma.
The Delicias council also pointed out that the UIF had contradicted itself, while Compeán said in a statement that the council wasn’t notified when its accounts were blocked.
He also asserted that it was the first time that the federal government has frozen the bank accounts of a municipal council.
The UIF has taken on a leading role in the federal government’s fight against corruption and organized crime, and director Santiago Nieto has provided semi-regular updates about high-profile cases.
Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero insinuated in January that the UIF chief had made statements that failed to respect the presumption of innocence of those who he had mentioned, including former cabinet secretary Rosario Robles and ex-Pemex chief Emilio Lozoya.
Responded to Gertz’s insinuation, President López Obrador said that Nieto “doesn’t do anything without consulting with the president.”
That remark raises the possibility that the president directly ordered the freezing of the accounts of the municipality of Delicias as well as those of the mayor and other officials allegedly behind the Boquilla dam protests.
López Obrador claimed in July that PAN politicians are behind the protests, charging that they want to protect water in Chihuahua for their own business interests.
The conservative PAN is currently the main opposition party to the ruling Morena party, and with midterm elections to be held in 2021, the president and other federal officials are even more eager to depict it in a bad light.
Javier Corral, the PAN governor of Chihuahua, is one of 10 governors who decided to withdraw from the National Conference of Governors this month after deciding that López Obrador is a threat to democracy.
Corral, who said that there is a “hint of authoritarianism” in the president’s conduct, is strongly opposed to the diversion of water to the United States, which the federal government says must be sent there in compliance with a 1944 water treaty between Mexico and its northern neighbor.
While the president blames his political adversaries for the dam protests, Corral blames Conagua for poor management of the country’s dams and claims corruption within the agency has permitted the illegal use of water for irrigation.