Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Mexico pols trade barbs over $1.9M found in bags

Wednesday, February 1, 2012 |

E. Eduardo Castillo and Mark Stevenson
The Associated Press

In this Jan. 28, 2012 image released by Mexico's Attorney General's Office (PGR) on Jan. 31, 2012, an official counts money that was seized at the Mexico state airport in Toluca, Mexico. Industry groups, political parties and analysts in Mexico are questioning the odd circumstances of $1.9 million in cash found stuffed into an official's suitcase and backpack at an airport. Photo: PGR / AP

Political rivals slammed each other Tuesday over $1.9 million in wads of cash found stuffed into a state official's luggage at a central Mexico airport. The find inflamed already rampant speculation about whether organized crime or illegal campaign money will influence the July 1 presidential election.

Stacks of cash, many of them bank-fresh 1,000-peso bills, were found when police decided to search passengers arriving on a private flight to Toluca, the capital of the home state of leading presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto.

The money came from Veracruz, a Gulf coast state governed by Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. The state official said he was making a hurried payment to a legitimate company for consulting services.

President Felipe Calderon's National Action Party called that explanation "an insult to the intelligence of Mexicans," whose tax laws, crime problem, strict campaign finance laws and economic problems make carrying such large amounts of cash very unusual.

"It is no coincidence that this amount of money was taken to Toluca ... and that is precisely where the campaign of the PRI's favored son, Enrique Pena Nieto, operates," National Action said in a statement.

The PRI thundered back that the search, which authorities say had been random, was politically motivated.

"The PRI rejects any attempt to carry out a political persecution or the partisan use of law enforcement against political rivals," the PRI said in a statement. "This is the kind of thing being done with the ill-intentioned and unfounded accusations that Veracruz state money was being used to support PRI campaigns. That is absolutely false."

Analysts said both sides could be right.

"We have not only become accustomed to corruption, but that even when it appears they (police) are fighting corruption, the only thing they are really doing is trying to strike political blows," said columnist and political analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson.

The federal government, which is controlled by National Action, has refused to return the cash until the PRI government of Veracruz clears up all the doubts about it.

Mexico has strict limits on the amounts of money that can be spent on political campaigns. The PRI's presidential candidate will be limited to spending 495 million pesos ($38.4 million) for the entire campaign.

Pena Nieto holds a wide lead in most opinion polls on the July 1 presidential election.

His party has made strenuous efforts to rebrand itself as a law-abiding and transparent party that has left behind the legacy of corruption that marked much of its seven decades of autocratic rule, which ended when the National Action Party defeated the PRI in the 2000 presidential election.

"I categorically deny that these seized funds have anything to do with the campaign," Pena Nieto told reporters Tuesday. "And these allegations don't seem very reliable to me."

No one has alleged any links of the cash to drug trafficking or money laundering, although Veracruz state has been wracked by drug violence. Calderon said last fall that the state had been turned over to the Zetas cartel and he sent troops there to regain order.

Veracruz state Finance Secretary Tomas Ruiz said the cash was part of an approved state budget expense aimed at boosting tourism to festivals. He said it was being rushed in one lump sum to pay the firm before the state's Feb. 2 Candelaria or Candlemas celebration, an annual weeklong festival famous throughout Mexico.

The company, Industria 3, appears on Mexican government purchasing websites as having received other governmental contracts for similar work.

In a telephone interview, Industria 3 executive Eduardo Fragoso refused to give details on the company's contract, or discuss why the payment was made in cash. But he confirmed a statement saying the company had been contracted to "organize, promote and do publicity for" fairs in Veracruz state.

An advertising trade group official said big cash payments "are not a common practice" in the business. Alfonso Castaneda, assistant director of the Mexico's advertising and public relations industry chamber, said such firms often wait some time to get paid or are paid in partial increments as work is done.

Juan Vergel Pacheco, a leader of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, called the state government's story "absurd and infantile," noting that at very least, the cash shipment violated government accounting procedures and tax laws.

The movement of money that way shows up in plain-old corruption scandals, Zepeda Patterson said. Corrupt officials often use vaguely worded "consultancy" or service contracts to get kickbacks, because it is hard to prove the "goods" aren't delivered, or aren't worth as much as is paid for them, he said.

"Typically, the way these things work is that they say, 'I'll give you 25 million pesos, and you give me back 15,'" he said. "Obviously, the political rivals automatically assume that it was money destined for electoral purposes, and that could be ... but it also may have had a lot more vulgar aims, like simply enriching family bank accounts."

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7 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

El papel moneda fue impreso con numero de serie y mandado a un banco dentro de Mexico y alguen hizo un fuerte retiro... follow the money! decia:Enrique "kike" Macarena este te va a llevar a donde estan los jefes de la organizacion e investiguen al Gerente del Banco que autorizo este fuerte retiro con esta cantidad de dinero pues todo tiene un inicio y un destino final.did you all Know that Zetas use debit cards to get their weekly Salary y nadien a sido arrestado por depositar el dinero en estas tarjetas o que las compañias prestanombres no han sido investigadas para nada.

Anonymous said...

Pues logico q es de los putos zetas financiando al rata de pena nieto Como al guey le estan saliendo muchos trapos al sol ya la chinga el culero esa es una Clara prueva de q los zetas estan con el pri asi q raza aya ustedes si quieren al pri de presidente pa q nos acaven de chingar los pinches mugrozoz ....

Anonymous said...

You can be sure the heads of cartels are living in a governor's mansion in their respective areas.
Don't feel bad for Mexicans for this is their cultural and country. And they love their country and culture. Unfortunately they bring this culture north with them.

Anonymous said...

The corruption and massacres of tens of thousands of innocent people by the cartels with the knowledge and participation of government officials, police, and even the military represent a clear and present danger to the national security and sovereignty of the United States. It is time to declare war and invade Mexico as their threat is exponentially greater than that of Iran, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Just give it time, soon money like this changing hands will be common as soon as
politicians figure out they can make bribery legal. Superpaks, special interests you get the point.

Anonymous said...

@ February 2, 2012 9:42 AM .I think your comment just about sums up the whole of this cartel war,and the government in charge.This is obviously not a politically correct thing to say,but speaking the truth and common sense are becoming harder to find.Are you Mexican or US,just out of curiosity ?"Don't feel bad for Mexicans for this is their cultural and country. And they love their country and culture."

Anonymous said...

i have to agree with "this is their culture and country".
just one ride down any road in mexico can bring you a face to face with mexican police. the person i was visiting already had the "mordida little bite" in their hand ready to hand it to the "official". a quick handshake a delivery of pesos into the hand of the officer and we were on our way down the road again.
coming from the USA i was somewhat in shock about the whole thing but my host assured me that this is the way things are done here in mexico.

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