By RICARDO CASTILLO
The key topic of talk in Mexi9co’s political circles last week was definitely the arrest of former Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex Director Emilio Lozoya Austin in Málaga, Spain.
Lozoya was temporarily jailed to await extradition to Mexico.
The Fiscal General of the Republic has issued four different arrest warrants for Lozoya, charging him with a battery of crimes, including criminal association, taking bribery as a public official, carrying out financial operations with ill-gotten resources and tax evasion.
More recently, Lozoya was forbidden for 10 years from working for the Mexican government, according to the director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) of the Treasury Secretariat.
The most incriminating accusation against Lozoya is that of having taken a $10 million bribe from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. This allegedly occurred during the 2011 presidential election and it is now known that at least $5 million went directly to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which backed Enrique Peña Nieto for president. In political circles, it is said that the PRI used the money to purchase votes for the future president.
Lozoya also stands accused of masterminding the purchase by Pemex of an obsolete fertilizer factory Agro Nitrogenados from steel tycoon Alonso Ancira Elizondo. Pemex paid $273 million in cash for a plant that had not been in operation for 18 years.
In fact, Lozoya’s partner, Ancira Elizondo, is also facing extradition from Spain — and has been since May of last year — for the sale of the fertilizer plant. Unlike Lozoya, Ancira Elizondo is out on bail.
Lozoya was denied bail because he introduced himself to the arresting officers with a fake driver’s license from Mexico City, with his photo, but a different name. Also, Lozoya had been on the lam since August ,apparently living in Russia under the protection of friends in the Vladimir Putin government.
Spanish Ambassador to Mexico Juan López-Dóriga Pérez, upon confirming Lozoya’s arrest and incarceration, said that the extradition procedure would take about one year due to the slow Spanish court system.
It will not be until then, provided the Mexican government wins the extradition request, that Lozoya Austin could be brought to Mexico to stand trial.
The speculation on what what will finally come out of the trial is humongous. First and foremost, Lozoya was a very close associate to former President Peña Nieto, who placed him at the helm of the giant Pemex company that Lozoya allegedly sacked. He reportedly has now amassed a fortune of $750 million in different tax haven holdings and secret – well, apparently not so secret any more – accounts.
Many think that Lozoya will remain loyal to Peña Nieto and will stay silent about the former president’s participation, or not, in the crooked dealings he allegedly carried out at Pemex.
Lozoya’s defense attorney, Javier Coello Trejo, however, has publicly stated that if his client is proven guilty, surely he was not alone in the clear attempt to lead Pemex into bankruptcy. “He took orders” from other people in the government, Coello Trejo said, particularly from his direct boss, then-Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray.
It has also become public that Videgaray did not like Lozoya because he was aware of many deals the Pemex manager was up to. Sources claim that Videgaray suggested to the president that Lozoya should be fired. Peña Nieto said no. Videgaray returned months later with the same request, and then the president allegedly told him “don’t bring that issue up again.”
Surely, a year or so is not a lot of time to wait for what could potentially be the trial of not just an administration, but that of an entire political system.
The problem at hand is that current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has made it clear on several occasions that he will not proceed against former presidents. AMLO’s commitment to protect Peña Nieto from going to jail, as happened to Brazil and Peru in the cases of former Presidents Luiz Igácio Lula da Silva and Alan García, exists because he does not want to distract from his administration with the major scandal that such a move would provoke.
Hence the phrase on the headline of this article, “Don’t You Worry, Enrique,” is a tongue-in-cheek-joke being used now in the press. That joke is rooted in an incident when then-Social Development (Sedesol) Secretary Rosario Robles was under heavy political fire, during a speech delivered by Peña Nieto on Aug.12, 2013. Peña Nieto told her in public: “Don’t you worry, Rosario.”
The not-so-funny twist for the former Sedesol secretary is that she is now sitting in jail ,charged with embezzlement. And some political pundits think that this could also happen to Peña Nieto since he apparently knew of the billionaire “Master Fraud” allegedly carried out by Rosario under his administration.
But let’s go no further than this for now, since the Lozoya trial is long into the future and anything claimed today could turn out to be mere speculation.
So for the meantime, don’t you worry, Enrique.