By RICARDO CASTILLO
What came as a shock to the Mexican political system last Friday, July 5, was not that the nation’s fiscal (attorney) general managed to get a judge to issue him yet another arrest warrant against former Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) Director Emilio Lozoya Austin, but that the arrest warrant also included his mother, wife and sister, Gilda Austin, Helene Eckes and Gilda Lozoya, respectively. The three ladies stand accused of laundering the monies Emilio received from bribes.
This time, the warrant against Lozoya is not for the pending charge of buying in the name of Pemex the junk fertilizer-making plant. Instead, he is now being charged with taking bribes from the now-bankrupt Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, whose owner Marcelo Odebrecht is currently serving a 20-year sentence in Brazil for having paid graft money to officials belonging to the Brazilian state-owned oil company for leonine construction contracts.
This new warrant against Lozoya and his family members may not be the end of his problems. Last April 30, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) notified the Mexican Finance Secretariat that it was initiating an investigation on Lozoya Austin for money laundering. It requested information on several money transfer originating in Mexico made by Lozoya, who is now on the lam along with mother, wife and sister. They are being sought by Interpol in 180 countries. The Finance Secretariat made the news public last week through the state-run news agency Notimex.
Even if the Odebrecht warrant is a novelty, this is a case that’s been in the making since 2014, when the Odebrecht scandal, which landed several Latin American presidents in jail (including from Brazil and Peru) and prompted another president, Alan García, to commit suicide on April, 2017, when he was discovered to have also taken bribes from Odebrecht in exchange for government construction contracts.
What is noteworthy about the new arrest warrant against Emilio Lozoya, though, is that his name was mentioned in the trial against Marcelo Odebrecht in Brazil as the recipient of “gifts” totaling $13 million back in 2012, when he was one of the campaign managers for former President Enrique Peña Nieto. Lozoya allegedly funneled part of that bribe into the campaign, which rendered Peña Nieto victor.
Lozoya has hired top-gun defense lawyer Javier Coello Trejo. The defense counsel is a seasoned politician (he’s been assistant federal attorney general and attorney general in his home state of Chiapas), and no doubt he senses the delicate nature of the case at hand.
Over the weekend, he requested that Peña Nieto, as well as former Treasury and Foreign Relations secretary Luis Videgaray, be summoned to make public statements to exonerate Lozoya. On Monday, July 8, another judge issued a denial to summon either Peña Nieto or Videgaray on the grounds that Lozoya is not yet on trial.
Nevertheless, lawyer Coello Trejo has threatened to summon as many as 20 former government officials for the trial, and, in fact, he has already shaken up current Fiscal General Alejandro Gertz Manero – Lozoya’s direct accuser – by exposing the fact that in the past, he represented Gertz Manero in a case and that they are longtime friends.
Gertz Manero answered that this is not a case of his making. In fact, the case came up since 2017, when Lozoya was first mentioned as a possible recipient of graft. Back then, Attorney General Raúl Cervantes shelved the investigation results. He resigned in 2016. His replacement, Alberto Elías Beltrán, also chose not pursue the Lozoya case, and, not surprisingly, it is rumored at the Fiscal General Office that he too was under investigation for … what else … taking big bribes from defense lawyers.
In short, Coello Trejo’s defense strategy is based on the threat of opening up the enormous corruption sewage pipeline everyone in Mexico suspects the Peña Nieto administration was feeding. Coello Trejo has threatened to summon to declare, both on the fertilizer plant and the Odebrecht cases, literally dozens of people who participated in the drafting of the contracts. The name of someone else who may also have to walk to the political gallows is that of former Energy Secretary Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, said to be the mastermind in the zillionaire swindles in the purchase of fertilizer manufacturing companies Agronitrogenados and Fertinal. For the latter, steel tycoon Alonso Ancira Elizondo was temporarily jailed in Spain and is now facing extradition to Mexico, although he is free on bail.
Another battle, first won and then lost by counsel Coello Trejo, was that of the freezing of Lozoya Austin’s accounts in Mexico. He managed to get them unfrozen on April 30, but on June 20, a federal judge revoked the legal protection known as an “amparo.”
About the only loose caboose in this case right now is the location of the four indicted suspects, namely Lozoya Austin, his mother, sister and wife.
Defense lawyer Coello Trejo, while complaining about the “injustice” of involving the three women – “why the family?” he asked – has claimed that Lozoya is in Mexico, but will only appear if he is granted bail. The Fiscal General has already tossed into the bundle of accusations that of association with members of “organized crime,” referring to his relatives, a charge for which there is no bail. Gossip has it that Lozoya and his relatives are alive and well, living in Germany.
For now, the only issue pending is Lozoya’s arrest, which some claim that, being Mexico what it is, may never happen.