Federal officials have frozen the bank accounts of Altos Hornos de México (AHMSA), one of Mexico’s biggest steelmakers, and the former CEO of the state oil company, Emilio Lozoya, for allegedly carrying out financial operations with illegal resources.
The Finance Secretariat (SHCP) said several operations in the domestic and international financial system were carried out with resources that “allegedly did not come from lawful activities and which are presumed to have derived from acts of corruption.”
Sources told the newspaper El Financiero that the freezing of AHMSA accounts is related to its sale to Pemex of an unserviceable fertilizer plant during Lozoya’s administration. Pemex paid US $475 million for the plant in 2014 but the current government says that it was only worth about $50 million.
In addition, the investigative news website Quinto Elemento Lab reported last August that the steelmaker paid US $3.7 million to a shell company allegedly set up by Odebrecht to pay bribes.
Lozoya, chief of Pemex between 2012 and 2016 and a close associate of former president Enrique Peña Nieto, has been accused of receiving US $10 million in bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht in exchange for the awarding of contracts.
Last week, he was barred him from holding public office for a period of 10 years for providing “false information” about his assets.
The secretariat said that in freezing the accounts of Lozoya and AHMSA, its Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) was fulfilling its obligations as an authority of the Mexican state.
Its actions are supported by the United Nations Conventions against Corruption and Transnational Organized Crime, it added.
The SHCP said that the legal rights of both Lozoya and AHMSA are guaranteed, stating that “the Financial Intelligence Unit acts at all times in accordance with the law” and that its intention was not to harm the workers, shareholders or suppliers of Altos Hornos de México.
AHMSA employees’ access to their bank accounts will be restored today, the department said.
The case against Lozoya and AHMSA is the highest profile corruption probe since President López Obrador took office last year after winning the 2018 election on a strong anti-graft platform.
Lozoya hasn’t commented publicly on the latest sanction against him but has repeatedly denied allegations of any wrongdoing during his tenure at the helm of Pemex.
AHMSA said in a statement that the UIF had “improperly” frozen its accounts and denied all allegations of unlawful conduct.
“It’s an unprecedented act – arbitrary and a violation of all rights. The UIF, whose purpose is the prevention and combat of crimes of operations with resources of illicit origin, is obstructing the operational continuity of AHMSA, harming its shareholders, more than 20,000 workers and thousands of suppliers, customers and third parties that make up the vast industrial chain,” it said.
The Coahuila-based company also said that the economic stability of that state was at risk as a result of the actions against it.