Alarming levels of corruption in government, the judiciary and law-enforcement, earned Mexico the 2013 title of one of the two most corrupt countries in Latin America, according to theGlobal Corruption Barometer released in July by Transparency International, an anti-corruption nonprofit group. Mexico shares its rank with Argentina.
In the group’s Global Corruption Barometer of 2013, Mexico’s political parties, police, legislature and judiciary were perceived as the most corrupt, with 91%, 90%, 83% and 80% negative views on corruption. The report, which is based on a survey of 114,000 people in 107 countries, offers a warning that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage societies around the world. In Mexico corruption cases are rarely prosecuted.
A serious drag on Mexico’s development and a significant obstacle to Mexico achieving a functional democracy, corruption has long been a part of the country’s political culture. Carlos Hank González, the deceased founder of the powerful Grupo Atlacomulco, which masterminded Enrique Peña Nieto’s run for president, once said: “A politician that is poor is a poor politician.” For many Mexican politicians, his motto became the Bible.
The following is a list of the 10 Mexicans perceived to be among the most corrupt in 2013. I appreciate the input received from colleagues and academics during the process of compiling this list.
Elba Esther Gordillo Former teacher’s union leader known as La Maestra (the Teacher) was charged in February with embezzling $200 million from union funds to pay for her lavish lifestyle. She is notorious for her $5,000 Hermes bags and expensive plastic surgeries in California clinics. Three residences connected to Gordillo have been identified in California. The main one, where the now jailed teacher spent most of her time, is a $4.7 million house on a cul-de-sac in Coronado Cays that features a private dock with a boat and jet ski.
Carlos Romero Deschamps is the powerful Pemex workers union leader and one of the most notorious PRI members long suspected of influence-peddling for personal enrichment. Paulina Romero, his daughter, displays onFacebook her travels around the world in private jets –accompanied by her three English bulldogs Keiko, Boli and Morgancita– her voyages on yachts, dining in first class restaurants and sporting $12,000 Hermes luxury bags. Her brother drives a $2 million limited edition red Enzo Ferrari sport car, a gift from their father, whose trade union monthly salary is $1,864. Romero Deschamps, a federal senator, is reported to have a “cottage” in Cancun with a value close to $1.5 million. According to political analyst Denise Dresser, in 2011 he received $21.6 million for “aid to the union executive committee” and $15.3 million from union dues. My “hands are clean,” Romero Deschamps claims. The Peña Nieto administration seems to agree. He is not under investigation.
Raúl Salinas de Gortari is largely responsible for destroying his brother Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s presidential legacy by becoming a symbol of corruption and impunity. Raúl spent ten years in jail convicted of a high-profile political homicide, but was acquitted in 2005. In July, a Mexican judgeexonerated him on the final charge pending against him of “unlawful enrichment” and ordered $19 million dollars deposited in twelve bank accounts and 41 properties be returned to him. The decision outraged Mexicans. It was perceived as one more proof of abuse of power by Mexican elites.
Genaro García Luna was the powerful Secretary of Public Security (SSP) under the Calderón Administration. With the biggest budget assigned to his department and a blank check from Calderón, García Luna was the most feared cabinet member. His tenure was marked by an excess of spending for self-promotion and abuse of power scandals exposed by the Mexican press. In her book Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers, award-winning journalist Anabel Hernandez links García Luna with the country’s top drug capos, including Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. García Luna allegedly threatened to have Hernandez killed. In 2012, convicted drug kingpin Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villareal claimed that García Luna had been on the payroll of drug trafficking groups for ten years. The Peña Nieto Administration dissolved the SSP. García Luna has not been seen since he left office in 2012. He is believed to be living in Miami but reporters have not been able to find him. There is no known investigation against him in Mexico or the U.S.
UPDATE Dec. 18: Genaro García Luna broke his one-year self-imposed silence in a December 17 letter to Steve Forbes to say that the “value judgments” about him in this article “are lies and they lack journalistic rigor.” He charges that the “source on which they are based is false.” The “source” he seems to be referring to is the book Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and their Godfathers (Verso 2013), by award-winning Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez. In the letter to Steve Forbes, the man in charge of conducting the bloody war on drugs during the Calderón administration lists medals and merits bestowed upon him by world governments and international organizations as proof of the results of his public performance. He claims that what he describes as “disinformation and discrediting campaigns” against him are due to his having “hurt drug trafficking and kidnapping structures” in Mexico.
García Luna’s “clarification letter” was reprinted in various Mexican media on Tuesday, hours after being sent to Forbes, under headlines such as García Luna, who has more than a year without appearing, accuses Forbes of lying and says he is not corrupt.” ]
Andrés Granier, former PRI governor of Tabasco, was arrested by Mexican federal law-enforcement in June on charges of corruption, embezzlement, tax evasion and money laundering. In a taped conversation leaked to the media, Granier bragged about owning 400 pairs of shoes, 300 suits and 1,000 shirts, bought from luxury stores in New York and Los Angeles. His yearly salary as governor was $92,000. His successor discovered that $190 million was missing from state coffers. He was also indicted by the Tabasco authorities. He denies any wrongdoing.
Tomás Yarrington is a former PRI governor of Tamaulipas. He was indicted in early December on racketeering and money laundering charges in Texas. Yarrington allegedly took large bribes from major drug trafficking groups in Tamaulipas, including the Gulf Cartel, in return for letting them operate freely during his administration (1999-2004). Yarrington’s lawyers say that the charges are based on false accusations by people trying to bargain with U.S. prosecutors. The U.S. has not asked Mexico for his arrest and extradition. His whereabouts are unknown.
Humberto Moreira is the former PRI governor of Coahuila state. During his administration (2005-2011), the debt of the state increased from $27 million to $2.8 billion, creating the state’s worst financial crisis in history. The debt scandal forced Moreira’s resignation first as governor and later as head of the PRI. Jorge Torres López, who took over as an interim governor, was chargedwith conspiracy to launder money and other financial crimes in Texas in November. Moreira has not been charged. He is living with his family in an upscale neighborhood in Barcelona, Spain, while earning a masters degree.
Update Dec. 23: In a letter to Forbes following publication of this post, counsel for Humberto Moreira denied that his client was involved in any corruption scandal and requested that he be removed from this list.
Update January 3, 2014: In a letter to Dolia Estevez, Christian F. Zinser Cieslik, attorney for Humberto Moreira, demanded that his client be removed from this list, that the author contact everybody who has reproduced this post and ask them to amend it, and that the author reveal the methodology used to compile the list. Steve Zansberg, counsel for Dolia Estevez at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP, informed Mr. Zinser that she has declined his demands.
Fidel Herrera, former PRI governor of Veracruz. Under his administration (2004-2010) the Zeta cartel’s criminal activities thrived. Allegations about his connections to the Zetas emerged during a trial in April in Texas. An FBI agent testified that Francisco Colorado Cessa, a contractor for Mexico’s state oil company Pemex, acted as an intermediary between Herrera and a founding member of the Zetas. Colorado Cessa was convicted. Herrera allegedly was bribed into allowing the Zetas to operate freely. Herrera has denied the allegations and is not under investigation in Mexico. There are unconfirmed reports that he may be sent as ambassador to Greece.
Arturo Montiel, former Mexico state PRI governor, uncle of President Enrique Peña Nieto and member of the Grupo Atlacamulco, is accused by French citizen Maudi Versini, his former wife, of kidnapping their three children. Versini, who has custody over the children, claims that justice has been manipulated by her ex-husband to prevent her from seeing them. Montiel dropped out of the 2005 presidential race following allegations of millionaire mansions and bank transactions in Mexico and France. He is not under investigation.
Alejandra Sota, former President Calderon’s spokesperson, is being investigated by Mexican authorities for alleged embezzlement and trafficking of influence. She is suspected of favoring friends and former classmates with government contracts during the time she served as a top government official. She is currently attending graduate school at Harvard’s Kennedy School even though she has no college degree.
Update Dec. 23: In a letter to Steve Forbes following publication of this post, Alejandra Sota objected to being included among the ten most corrupt Mexicans of 2013 and asked for a clarification on what is said about her in this article.
Update Dec. 15, 2014: On May 29 2014, Alejandra Sota, former President Calderon’s spokesperson, was cleared by Mexico’s Department of Public Performance of “illicit enrichment” while she was a high level official under de Calderón Administration. After an investigation into how she increased her assets while being a public servant, the now defunct agency said that her estate was consistent with her income.
Update Dec. 22, 2014: An update made on Dec. 15, 2014 incorrectly stated that the agency that investigated Alejandra Sota is now defunct. The agency does exist though Congress approved dissolving it in 2012.
By Dolia Estevez for Forbes.com
EDITOR’S NOTE: This post refers to Mexico’s ranking on Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, issued in July. It does not refer to Mexico’s ranking on Transparency International’s 2013 Corruptions Perceptions Index, released in early December, in which Venezuela was ranked as Latin America’s most corrupt country.
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