The previous federal government left office almost two years ago but some of the many corruption scandals that plagued it have life in them yet and could result in the imprisonment of former president Enrique Peña Nieto’s right-hand man.
Media attention this week has focused on the so-called “Master Fraud” embezzlement scheme in which government departments allegedly diverted billions of pesos to shell companies via public universities.
The highest-profile former official who has been arrested in connection with the scheme is Rosario Robles, who served as both minister of social development and minister of agrarian development in Peña Nieto’s 2012-2018 government.
A lawyer for Robles, who remains in custody in a Mexico City prison, claimed this week that former finance and foreign affairs minister Luis Videgaray was in charge of the fraud scheme and used it to divert public funds to political campaigns of the then-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.
Sergio Arturo Ramírez said his client will cooperate with the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) and provide details about Videgaray’s involvement.
His claims were met with a firm denial from the former finance minister, who also faces accusations of wrongdoing related to a corruption scheme involving Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.
Robles, who was jailed over a year ago, took to Twitter on Tuesday (going online is apparently not a problem in the Santa Martha prison) to announce that she had agreed to become a “collaborating witness” in the “Master Fraud” case.
“For now it’s the only thing I can say. … I’ve instructed my lawyers to abide by the legal process. What I must say is that I will speak the truth,” she wrote.
Robles added that she had asked her lawyers to seek an agreement with the authorities, apparently indicating that she is prepared to talk in exchange for acquittal or a reduction in any jail sentence she might receive.
“There will surely be those who deny the facts but the proof will speak [for itself],” she wrote.
Robles’ decision to cooperate with authorities came after it was revealed that she would face organized crime and money laundering charges in addition to being accused of improper exercise of public office.
Perhaps complicating her attempt to get out of jail are claims made by Emilio Zebadúa Gonzále, who was a high-ranking bureaucrat in the Ministry of Social Development (Sedesol) when it was led by Robles.
According to the newspaper El Universal, Zebadúa – who is also accused of involvement in the “Master Fraud” – told the FGR that Robles met with colleagues every week to plot the diversion of public funds via the embezzlement scheme.
Zebadúa also told the FGR that Robles and former Sedesol chief Ramón Sosamontes personally received cash that shell companies had received from public universities that were awarded government contracts.
The former official said that Sedesol and the Ministry of Agrarian Development and Urban Planning, which Robles headed up in the second half of the previous government’s term, diverted more than 1.2 billion pesos.
Zebadúa said Robles told him that Videgaray had explained to her that Sedesol needed to divert resources to pay for debts incurred and arrangements made during Peña Nieto’s 2012 presidential campaign. Videgaray was the ex-president’s campaign manager.
Former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya, who also worked on Peña Nieto’s campaign, has accused the former finance minister of striking corrupt agreements with Odebrecht in order to obtain millions of dollars in funding for the 2012 presidential bid.
Videgaray rejected Lozoya’s accusations against him in August, and took to Twitter again on Tuesday to respond to the claims made by Robles’ lawyer.
“I deeply regret that Rosario Robles is baselessly choosing to accuse me to try to get out of her legal situation,” he said in a statement posted to his Twitter account.
Videgaray said that he understands the “extraordinarily difficult” situation Robles is in but asserted that “desperation cannot be justification for lying and incriminating innocent people.”
“That mustn’t be the path to obtain her freedom,” he wrote.
“Rosario Robles can say many things but what she won’t be able to do is prove lies. I didn’t have any participation, direct or indirect, in the so-called Master Fraud,” Videgaray said.
“As a public servant I always acted within the legal framework and the only evidence that has emerged against me with respect to the alleged diversion of public resources are statements of people [Robles and Lozoya] who want to evade responsibility,” he wrote.
“I was never the boss of Rosario Robles. As cabinet colleagues we were equals – there was never a relationship of subordination between us. Neither her nor her co-workers received instructions from me.”
Despite his denials, government officials who spoke with the newspaper Milenio say the FGR already has sufficient evidence against Videgaray for him to go to jail. Information to be provided by Robles is only expected to strengthen the Attorney General’s Office’s case.
President López Obrador said earlier this month that the FGR had sought an arrest warrant for Videgaray in connection with the Odebrecht case but was blocked by a judge. It is currently preparing a new warrant request for the former cabinet minister, who – according to the statement he issued Tuesday – remains in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is a lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In a document that accompanied its first request for an arrest warrant for Videgaray, the FGR accused Peña Nieto of leading and personally benefiting from a criminal scheme within his government that paid bribes to lawmakers and committed treason.
However, it is not currently seeking to arrest the former president. There is a possibility that the FGR could seek to do so if a majority of citizens vote in favor of putting past presidents on trial for alleged wrongdoings at a referendum planned for next year.