Distrito Federal. 9-8-2012. The discovery of serious irregularities in the management of the air fleet of the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR: Office of Attorney General of the Republic) includes suspicions that some of the aircraft have been used to transport drugs and has triggered one of the most thorough investigations being carried out by the agency.
The anomalies go from an absence of operations manuals to theft and trafficking of spare parts; simulated repairs and "misplacing" flight logbooks and maintenance reports; insurance contracts for helicopters and undertaking flights on aircraft that were not airworthy.
According to the reports from the agency, an investigation has been initiated that involves more than 12 officials that worked since 2006 in the PGR's General Directorate of Aerial Services (DGSA). Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibanez discovered that, out of the PGR's own budget, the DGSA would pay businesses to package the items that the government employees were stealing and that were then sent to their buyers.
Attorney General Marisela Morales also ordered the suspension of all fleet operations, concentration of personnel and the immediate inspection of all the equipment, because an ongoing audit has determined that out of a total of 80 aircraft, only five are in shape to fly without any (mechanical) problems.
The Oficialia Mayor (the government's office of internal administration) and the Office Specializing in the Investigation of Federal Crimes (Subprocuraduria de Investigacion Especializada en Delitos Federales; SIEDF) and the Visitaduria General (equivalent to Inspector General) were asked to "get to the bottom of this. Wherever it goes," to uncover the corruption networks that are in place among DGSA officials, private contractors and public servants from other agencies, as well as the General Civil Aeronautics Directorate (DGAC), a division of the SCT (Secretariat of Communications and Transportation).
Sources consulted on this story revealed that the actions of the Attorney General generated "warnings not to mess with the DGSA," but, instead of stopping the investigation, the audit and the grounding of all flights, she ordered: "Don't stop the investigation. Take it wherever it goes."
Towards the end of the 1990's, the PGR came to own a fleet of 180 aircraft, which was considered the largest in Latin America. Currently, it has 80, including airplanes and helicopters, that are in "disastrous" mechanical condition. The DGSA audit also revealed that each hour of flight time in these aircraft represents a cost of US$4,629.00, whereas a private firm charges $3,000.00 (three thousand dollars) for the same service, without (the PGR) having to pay for salaries, insurance, maintenance or fees for hangar space or overnight stays in airports.
The sources consulted on this stated that the case was initiated in May, when the office of internal administration requested in writing that former DGSA director, Capt. Manuel Jesus Gonzalez Flores forward the operations manuals for the area, including the repair shop procedures and (records of) aircraft management. The response was "that this would not be possible and they were not necessary."
To the inquiry, according to officials interviewed, have been added the results of the audit performed by the U.S. company, JDA Aviation Technology Solution, comprised of retired specialists from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States government.
The president of JDA is Joseph del Balzo, former interim administrator of the FAA; assistant operations and systems development administrator and head of the technical center for that agency.
The audit firm was established in 1994, "it is an internationally recognized aviation consulting firm that specializes in developing solutions for regular airlines, charter operators, aviation corporations, aircraft manufacturers and component suppliers, repair facilities, training centers, airports and airport authorities, technology companies, developers and other legal enterprises."
The first thing that DGSA auditors requested were the operations manuals and they confirmed that the manuals do not exist. They also discovered that DGAC representatives failed to carry out their duties to inspect and supervise air and naval air facilities and technical aeronautical personnel. Neither did they (DGAC) insure that work was performed in compliance with international standards. The DGAC's (legal) obligation is [to insure] that there is safe, competitive and efficient air transport "that satisfies the needs of Mexican society."
Sources consulted pointed out that SCT organizations did not carry out inspections of the PGR's Air Services (office) because an official --whose identity was not disclosed-- was working in both agencies and covered up the anomalies. This is why, along with the former head of the DGSA, Manuel Jesus Gonzalez Flores is also the subject of the investigation.
The auditors began a physical inspection of the bases and maintenance workshops in the southern part of the country. The facilities located in Tapachula, Chiapas and Chetumal, Quintana Roo, were first. Next were the ones in Acapulco, Guerrero, and Cuernavaca, Morelos. But the most careful work was done at the Guadalajara, Jalisco, facilities, and the so-called Base Mexico, located at the Benito Juarez International Airport in the nation's capital, because that is where the Air Service warehouses are located. There, they found 600 spare parts missing and thousands of parts that are not usable since the PGR does not own aircraft that need these.
In recent days, the PGR suspended the purchase of an airplane motor. It was discovered in the $3 million dollar contract that it was ordered for an airplane that does not exist in the PGR fleet. With the intensification of the inventory and operational reviews, there were other results: at least 20 of the 80 aircraft in the fleet have to be scrapped because they are in "deplorable condition. Any attempt to make them operational would cost too much," said the officials who were interviewed.
The PGR will need to ask the Administrator of Insured Assets Office for advice on the legal status of the 20 aircraft so they can be auctioned or be written off from government property rolls because they were seized from criminal organizations in years past.
The auditors also discovered that in air operations bases, like the one in Hermosillo, Sonora, the PGR had shops mounted on freight trailers, and mechanics and technicians did not have adequate tools or facilities to perform their work. During one visit, they observed how the main motor on a helicopter was lowered by hand, repaired without the appropriate tools and then installed back on the helicopter. In several installations, they found reports of repairs paid for by the agency where the repairs were never done.
Since 2006, La Jornada (journal) revealed that DGSA workers had reported acts of corruption in which area directors were involved, but a criminal investigation was never initiated. The fleet then was comprised of 163 aircraft. The head of the PGR was Daniel Cabeza de Vaca and the (fleet) operational level was 47%. The investigation ordered by Attorney General Marisela Morales "will go back to 2004 if necessary, when supposedly the operational level of the fleet was higher than 75%, in order to determine on what date the complicities (sic) and dismantling of aircraft began," said the officials interviewed.