By RICARDO CASTILLO
It’s been barely three weeks since Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) won the presidential election and now he has his first major brawl. If a two-and-a-half-week-long honeymoon is good enough, then let it be.
Last week, the National Electoral Institute (INE) slapped AMLO’s political party, the National Regeneration Movement (Morena), with a $197 million peso fine for what INE top officials Ciro Murayama and Marco Baños call “legal fraud.”
This is a murky juridical term, not only because the charge will be hard for the INE to clarify and prove, but also because from the first moment he found out about the fine, AMLO launched a viral and frontal attack against Murayama and Baños, claiming vengeance on their part since they are conservatives who are sore that their favorite candidates did even come close to AMLO’s landslide victory.
Both officials – especially Murayama, who has been on radio and TV news programs and has published newspaper articles trying to validate the fine – claim that after the Sept. 19 earthquakes that left thousands of houses destroyed throughout southern Mexico, AMLO’s Morena formed a trust fund to help the homeless as it could.
Murayama said that Morena had destined monies allotted to it by the INE for campaigning purposes through the trust fund called For the Others (FDP). AMLO claims the trust fund raised the money (nearly $65 million pesos) from private gifts and that none of it went into Morena’s political campaigning or electioneering.
But Murayama is relentless in his accusations, claiming the FDP trust fund “was rather a parallel financial ploy with a permitted (legal) figure of a trust fund, but which did not comply with the organization’s duty to inform the federal authorities.”
Murayama added: “The objective of the trust fund, to provide handouts for the population, is an illegal activity for a party, and additionally takes its money in its majority from illegal and business sources to then transfer the funds (from a bank) without leaving a trace, which is contrary to the legal management of party finances. We have here a conduct that has a name: legal fraud, and fraud always implies deceit. Given this fact, we have proposed to sanction the (Morena) party with $197 million pesos, which represents 250 percent of the received income in this operation outside of the law. To tolerate this conduct would imply breaking the fair play laws of the game, allowing opacity and the use of millions of pesos from unknown source, which places in risk the conditioning of democratic competence. It matters not who commits these acts, it is the duty of the INE to detect and impose sanctions.”
AMLO had been quiet up until last Friday, July 20, when he went out to decry vengeance from Murayama and allegations of collusion between the INE and the Treasury Secretariat, which made the records of the FDP trust fund available to the “ill-intentioned” INE officials.
AMLO contends that the “illegal funds” were all were proven donations from private sources and that the 64 million were handed out in cash to over 27,000 victims of home destruction during the 2017 quakes.
And here comes the point of contention: The INE officials do not doubt that the monies went to the intended recipients in small amounts to each (an average of 2,500 pesos to each quake victim, which, may not seem like much, but when you don’t have it, it means a meal tomorrow) but the INE contends that Morena used funds for “purposes other than what they were intended,” and, ironically, in one interview, Murayama said, “Don’t do good things that seem wrong.”
But AMLO is contentious and insists that this is an onslaught in revenge from the “conservatives at the INE,” and as of last Sunday, July 22, the board of trustees of the FDP has filed a suit with the Electoral Tribunal to defend their behavior and sourcing of funds with “clear proof” that they acted in good faith when faced with a national tragedy and meant no wrong indeed.
In his peculiar rhetoric, AMLO called this action by the INE against Morena as an act that “does not stain but does blacken” (no mancha pero tizna), since the accusation comes at a time when AMLO has the presidency for the 2018-2024 period fully secured and sees it as the first of many dirty political tricks coming his way.
Now many things about the FDP trust fund will come to light, They will be made known by Morena legal representative Horacio Duarte Olivares, who is also a member of the INE board of counsels. He will have to present the case before the Electoral Tribunal with the leading defense that the FDP “is a private trust fund and has no juridical relationship to Morena.”
He will have to say why the FDP or Morena did not report their fundraising to the INE, which came to a full total of 78.8 million pesos for which INE slapped on the 197 million fine.
Lawyer Duarte says that if the Attorney General’s office considers the deposits murky, “then the Attorney General’s office will have to make its own investigation since it is none of the INE’s business to be investigating private trust funds. We are going to make both a legal and a political defense before the tribunal, which will surely prove us to be right.”
The question remaining in all this is the one made by AMLO in his first reaction to the 197 million fine:
“Is this vile vengeance?”
From now on the answer is with the Electoral Tribunal, which is precisely what it is there for.
Yet a friend asks: “Who’s behind all this?”
Indeed, it is not staining, but it is blackening AMLO.