Mining tycoon German Larrea Mota Velasco is Mexico’s most enigmatic and reclusive billionaire. He despises the spotlight that goes along with being Mexico’s second richest person, behind telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helú.
Few people outside of his family and the country’s top corporate elite even know what he looks like, which allows him to go to restaurants, visit public places and even travel abroad incognito. Yet his days of seclusion may be coming to an end.
In an article titled “German Larrea Reappears,” Forbes México published a large photo of Larrea and President Enrique Peña Nieto. The photo, published in the magazine’s current issue, was taken during a September meeting of the advisory board of Grupo Financiero Banamex, Mexico’s second largest bank. The shot captures the moment when Larrea spoke briefly with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Enrique Jiménez, author of the article explains.
Before the picture was posted on the Presidency’s web page, where Forbes México found it, the only image of Larrea was a blurry mug shot believed to have been taken from his drivers license.
Basic facts about Larrea’s biography are equally sketchy. His age is a mystery. It is variously given as 60 and 73. Wikipedia, both in English and Spanish, says he was born July 8, 1941. He is said to be married and have at least two children.
His companies don’t say much about him. For example, U.S.-based Southern Copper Corp., 75% owned by Larrea’s mining and infrastructure giant Grupo México, lists him as Chairman of the Board and Director, but limits his CV to a list of current and past corporate positions. Grupo México’s web page does not list phone numbers, an email address or a press contact.
Other known facts indicate that Larrea owns luxury real estate in Florida and Chicago. Some of these properties have resulted in lawsuits over concessions demanded by Larrea and alleged violations of contract procedures. U.S. legal records show that Larrea has refused to testify. They also show that Larrea has concealed his identity as the buyer with shell corporations of which he is the sole member — something that happens regularly in real estate transactions.
“He does not like to appear to testify but does like to file lawsuits,” said Peter Francis Geraci, a Chicago-based attorney who Larrea is fighting in court over a luxury penthouse at the Ritz Carlton Residences located in the Magnificent Mile, one of Chicago’s most prestigious residential and commercial thoroughfares.
According to legal documents, Larrea recently bought a $4 million condominium in the Ritz Carlton Residence because his 24 year-old married daughter is living in Chicago. In addition, Larrea wants to buy Ritz Carlton Residence Penthouse 1.
The publication of Larrea’s photo comes at a time when Grupo México’s reputation has taken a strong hit over the recent toxic spill of 10 million gallons (40,000 cubic meters) of copper sulfate acid into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers, located 25 miles south of the border with Arizona. The spill was caused by Grupo México’s Buenavista copper mine. Called the “worst ecological disaster” on record in Mexico’s history, the spill left thousands of residents with no clean water. Yet not only did Larrea not apologize, but Grupo México initially resisted requests by Mexican authorities to invest in the clean up.
Grupo México finally gave in and agreed to put aside $150 million to pay for environmental and human damages. The amount seems insignificant for one of the world’s largest copper producers, which last year had $9.3 billion in revenue. The government was criticized for reaching an agreement with Grupo México and its failure to impose sanctions or take legal actions following the industry’s worst environmental disaster.
Larrea’s willingness to settle the dispute may have been influenced by his desire to bid for one of the two television channels that the government is creating under the new telecommunications law that seeks to foment competition. Currently, Grupo Televisa captures 70% Mexico’s TV audience.
On September 19, Larrea resigned from the board of Televisa to avoid a potential conflict of interest. Televisa said in a statement announcing the resignation that Larrea plans to take part in the bidding for a new TV network. According to Forbes México there are at least seven more potential bidders, though Larrea is the most solid financially.
German Larrea Mota Velasco is currently worth an estimated $14.9 billion, according to Forbes. He ranked number #67 on Forbes 2014 World’s Billionaires list.
By Dolia Estevez
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