MEXICO - Suspicions Begin to Circle Around Edomex Governor

The governor of the Estado de México (Edomex), Alfredo del Mazo Maza, has been accused of having a secret bank account in Andorra where he may have deposited illicit payments, which he is under pressure to clear up.

The allegations against Del Mazo appeared in an investigative report published on 18 July by the Spanish daily El País. This claimed that Del Mazo holds funds in a secret bank account in the Banca Privada d’Andorra (BPA). The report links Del Mazo to Dutch firm Abeodan Corporation, which opened the BPA account in 2012 back when Andorra still had strict bank secrecy laws. El País claims that BPA bank documents it has gained access to show that, as an Abeodan Corporation representative, Del Mazo transferred €1.5m (US$1.6m) to the account in 2012 without reporting it to relevant authorities in Mexico. According to El País, the €1.5m transfer came after Del Mazo informed BPA that he was planning to transfer a total of €4.5m held in Swiss banks accounts, which at the time were also protected by secrecy laws.

Subsequent transfers never took place as BPA flagged it as a potential money laundering operation. Then, in 2015 the account was frozen after the US said BPA accounts were being used to launder money for criminal organisations and individuals from around the world. This led Andorran authorities to seize control of BPA and open an investigation. El País reported that the bank account linked to Del Mazo has been identified as one of those that potentially received illicit funds. His potential involvement in money laundering through Abeodan Corporation and other offshore firms was investigated in Andorra but Andorran investigators archived the probe after saying they had been unable to obtain information requested from Mexico’s attorney general’s office.

  • Venezuelan connection

Back in 2015 the US Department of the Treasury said that BPA bank accounts were used by Russian, Chinese, and Venezuelan money launderers. In the case of Venezuela, the suspicion was that Venezuelan government officials were depositing money embezzled from the state-owned oil firm Pdvsa in BPA bank accounts. The former head of BPA’s international division, Luis Pablo Laplana, who is also said to have helped Del Mazo and others open their accounts in BPA, has been prosecuted in Andorra. It is worth noting that in October last year Mexico’s attorney general’s office announced that it had dismantled a corruption ring that sold overpriced and poor-quality food to the Venezuelan government to be used in its subsidised food programme (Claps). The ring included various Mexican businessmen to be prosecuted. In relation to this case, on 19 July, the Mexican authorities announced that they had frozen the bank accounts of 19 firms and individuals implicated in this ring after finding evidence of money laundering to the tune of US$150m.

Yet Del Mazo neither revealed the existence of the BPA bank account nor listed it in the sworn declaration of assets he submitted in 2017 ahead of his election as governor that year. Del Mazo also failed to disclose his relationship to Abeodan Corporation, which apparently owns public parking management firm Pumasa SA de CV, a firm that operates in Mexico and should have been listed in his declaration of interests. All of this has resulted in Del Mazo facing probing questions, not least because other individuals linked to the PRI and accused of illicit enrichment and money laundering also have bank accounts in BPA. According to the press there are 25 BPA bank accounts linked to Mexican nationals that are currently frozen as part of money laundering investigations, among whom are some prominent figures (see below).

Del Mazo rejected the allegations made by El País. A statement issued by his office on 18 July said that the report contained erroneous information; that while Del Mazo was invited to become a partner at Pumasa he declined as he was holding public office at the time. It also denied that Del Mazo holds any bank accounts in Andorra or that he tried to hide any information about his assets. But just a day later he publicly admitted to having opened a bank account in Andorra in 2012 while serving as mayor of the Edomex municipality of Huixquilucan and considering abandoning public office to “explore entrepreneurial options”. Del Mazo explained that he decided against becoming involved with Pumasa after he was offered the post of director of the national public works & services bank (Banobras) by his cousin and then president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).

Del Mazo admits that opening a bank account in Andorra for the nascent business venture was “not the best decision”. But he insisted there was nothing illicit about the operation. Del Mazo’s explanations were questioned by Morena deputies in the Edomex legislature, who called for the case to be fully cleared up to determine if Del Mazo may have incurred in any wrongdoing and whether this took place while he was in public office. But intriguingly neither the Morena national leadership nor President López Obrador have commented on the case.

This is surprising given that Morena has not shied away from calling governors from other parties to resign over corruption allegations; and because Morena came close to winning the Edomex gubernatorial election in 2017, with the Morena candidate losing out to Del Mazo by less than three percentage points. Morena would fancy its chances of winning if a new election could be forced. The apparent reluctance to attack Del Mazo has heightened the speculation that López Obrador struck a ‘non-aggression pact’ with Peña Nieto following his election last year, under which he allegedly agreed not to go after Peña Nieto and his allies. Notably, López Obrador has had no qualms in denouncing suspected corruption by other former presidents.

  • Former president accused

During his 19 July morning press briefing, President López Obrador revealed that the federal tax authority (SAT) is investigating a former president over tax evasion. López Obrador did not provide any names, saying that the matter was under investigation. However, the local media speculates that the president in question is Vicente Fox (2000-2006). A member of the right-wing opposition Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), Fox is an outspoken critic of López Obrador. Notably, when asked if the FGR was investigating the allegations linking former president Peña Nieto to the Odebrecht corruption scandal, López Obrador responded that “I don’t have any information about that… no formal complaint, no evidence, nothing”.

Money laundering

Among those that have had their BPA bank accounts frozen as part of the anti-money laundering investigations is Juan Ramón Collado. A well-known and controversial lawyer, Collado was arrested in Mexico City (CDMX) on 9 July over accusations of money laundering and organised crime. Prosecutors from the attorney general’s office (FGR) believe they have gathered enough evidence to show Collado has helped many individuals launder money through the 42 firms in which he has a stake, according to FGR documents.

Prosecutors also have evidence that firms linked to Collado were awarded various contracts by seven different federal government dependencies worth billions of pesos between 2008 and 2015. Collado has in the past represented prominent figures linked to the PRI like former president Peña Nieto and Carlos Romero Deschamps, a former PRI senator and incumbent leader of the main Pemex workers’ union (STPRM), who has also been accused recently of money laundering and illicit enrichment by the FGR. According to the press, the frozen BPA bank account linked to Collado contains €90m.