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The port of Manzanillo, where a corruption clean-up is under way. The port of Manzanillo, where a corruption clean-up is under way.

Tax administration cracks down on customs corruption at two offices

Administrators and staff removed at Manzanillo, Colima, and Pantaco, Mexico City

The Federal Tax Administration (SAT) has fired the administrators of two customs offices for alleged corruption, one in the port of Manzanillo, Colima, and the other in the Pantaco office in Mexico City.

SAT head Margarita Ríos-Farjat announced the firings on Twitter, noting that the decision came directly from President López Obrador.

The president had previously made allegations of corruption in the Manzanillo office. During a press conference on April 11, López Obrador said that corruption had “reached an extreme” in the Manzanillo customs office, which he promised to “completely clean up.”

Anonymous government sources told El Diario de Colima that Manzanillo customs administrator Margarito Martín Saldaña was among those fired and that he has been arrested, along with six other Manzanillo customs officials.

Deputy administrator Lizbeth Benítez Sánchez has taken Saldaña’s place in the interim, and the office is operating with support from Navy marines.

The Manzanillo customs office is one of the largest in Mexico, serving the country’s busiest port.

Last week’s firings are part of a wider crackdown on corruption in the General Customs Administration (AGA), which oversees more than $900 billion in international trade.

AGA head Ricardo Peralta Saucedo told El Economista that the administration is prosecuting 68 people for corruption involving customs, including 18 SAT employees. Most are accused of crimes committed at AGA offices in Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and Sonora. If convicted, they could face up to 12 years in prison.

Peralta Saucedo said that in the past AGA offices have been an “extraordinary breeding ground” for corruption and impunity. He promised to implement a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy that includes introducing better technology into customs offices, such as x-ray machines.

“By introducing new technologies into all of the customs processes, little by little we’ll be able to remove human discretion, and with that, eliminate corruption,” he said. “Because today, all of the processes are subject to decisions made by individual people, and those decisions can be influenced by gifts, favors or other kinds of pressure.”

Peralta Saucedo added that eliminating corruption in customs will allow the government to fight tax evasion, a priority for the López Obrador administration.

According to Finance Secretary Carlos Arzúa Macías, tax evasion will cost the government 1 trillion pesos in 2019.

Source: El Economista (sp), El Diario de Colima (sp), Eje Central (sp)

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