Friday, March 1, 2024

Lozoya jailed: special treatment over for ex-Pemex chief facing corruption charges

A federal judge ordered the imprisonment of former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya on Wednesday, bringing to an end alleged preferential treatment the erstwhile state oil company boss has received since his extradition to Mexico on corruption charges in July 2020.

Although Lozoya – whose cooperation with the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) and apparent poor health had kept him out of preventative custody – was required to wear a tracking bracelet, check in periodically with authorities and surrender his passport, Judge Artemio Zúñiga ruled that he is a flight risk.

His ruling came after an prosecutor argued in favor of the former official’s imprisonment on the grounds that he has access to at least 2 million euros (US $2.3 million) in a recently detected foreign bank account that he could use to flee Mexico and go into hiding in a country such as Germany, where his wife lives.

The prosecutor also noted that the United States will open its land border to nonessential travel on November 8, and asserted that Lozoya, Pemex CEO from 2012 to 2016, has contacts that could allow him to obtain travel documents in a false name.

Lozoya, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, faces criminal association, money laundering and bribery charges in connection with corruption cases involving Brazilian construction company Odebrecht and Mexican steelmaker Altos Hornos de México. He has admitted to arranging for bribes to be paid to others but claimed in testimony provided to the FGR that former president Enrique Peña Nieto and ex-cabinet minister Luis Videgaray coerced him to do so.

Lozoya has accused dozens of other former and current officials of corruption, including ex-presidents Felipe Calderón and Carlos Salinas, and a group of National Action Party (PAN) lawmakers that includes state governors and 2018 presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya. The former PAN lawmakers allegedly received bribes in exchange for supporting the previous federal government’s structural reforms.

Judge Zúñiga said he had been in favor of remanding the former Pemex chief in preventative custody since the case against him began. However, his imprisonment had not been possible because the FGR – which gave Lozoya protected witness status – didn’t request it, he said.

The judge noted that Lozoya was given the opportunity to collaborate with authorities but ruled that he hasn’t done enough to help prosecutors in their corruption probe in the Odebrecht case. He asked the FGR to take care to protect Lozoya in Mexico City’s Reclusorio Norte prison because some people against whom he has made accusations, such as former PAN senator Jorge Luis Lavalle, are being held there.

A lawyer for the ex-Pemex CEO said after the hearing that he will appeal the preventative custody ruling. He also said that his client continues to cooperate with the FGR.

During the hearing, Lozoya offered to forfeit two properties to Pemex to compensate for dealings with Odebrecht that allegedly resulted in him receiving US $10.5 million in bribes in exchange for facilitating a juicy contract for the Brazilian firm.

He said the properties belonged to his family and provided copies of their deeds but didn’t reveal where they are located or their value. However, the offer was rejected, and FGR prosecutors clarified that their intention in seeking preventative prison for Lozoya was not to pressure him to pay compensation.

As he awaits trial, Lozoya will be held in the same prison as several notorious drug traffickers as well as former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte and lawyer Juan Collardo, who formerly represented Peña Nieto.

Opposition lawmakers have accused federal authorities of giving preferential treatment to the former Pemex chief since he arrived in Mexico from Spain, where he was arrested in February 2020. Their criticism of the authorities heightened last month after Lozoya was seen dining at a high-end Mexico City restaurant.

With reports from Milenio and El Universal 

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