By RICARDO CASTILLO
The one similarity between former Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) Director Emilio Lozoya Austin and Secretary of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development (Sedatu) Rosario Robles Berlanga is that both were high level officials during the administration of former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. That is about it.
Now that both are being charged of crimes against the nation’s finances, their cases are as different as oil and water and the amounts of money involved in their crooked deals are steeply distinct.
A year ago, Rosario was arrested as she showed up at the courts of the Santa Martha Acatitla women’s penitentiary to declare herself innocent of any crime. She was nabbed on the spot and is still facing trial for “omission” over some 15 billion pesos that went missing from the funds allotted to Sedatu and labeled by the press as the “Master Fraud.”
Lozoya Austin, on the other hand, even with the restrictions of living under house arrest, is enjoying relative freedom and will likely, at the end of an upcoming trial still in the making, walk away relatively unscathed.
The question baffling all of Mexico is why, when it comes to prosecution, the answer in regards to Rosario is yes and for Emilio is no?
Just last week, Fiscal General of the Republic Alejandro Gertz Manero had to face public criticism and explain the difference between the two cases. In a televised clip, Gertz Manero said that while Rosario “is not cooperating” and continued to defend herself against accusations while maintaining a hard-to-sustain plea of innocence, Lozoya Austin has admitted his guilt and offered a set of videos and documents, as well as receipts, claiming that he acted on orders from Peña Nieto and his Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray. Consequently, Gertz Manero said, and is thus considered “a contributing witness” and not exactly a criminal.
Because Lozoya agreed to testify against members from the previous administration, he is now being considered “a toad.” That is the moniker in Mexican penal slang for a whistleblower.
On the other hand, Robles is hanging in there holding on to her plea of innocence and not mentioning any names in the participants on the Master Fraud.
And echoing through time is that infamous day at the Zinancantán indigenous community in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, April 19, 2013, when Peña Nieto, with mud already flying already over Rosario’s image, on April 19, 2013, told her: “Hang in there, Rosario. Endure.”
That much she has particular meaning now when she has been left all alone, while Peña Nieto enjoys the sweet life in Spain and Videgaray has gone invisible.
The battering of Rosario by the Fiscal General of the Republic’s office just keeps getting tougher as time goes by.
Just last week, for instance, a federal judge refused to issue a writ of habeas corpus in favor two former Rosario Robles associates. They were Enrique Prado Ordonez, who was procurement director at Sedatu, and Sonia Angélica Zaragoza González, who worked under Robles as the human resources director at the Social Development Secretariat (Sedesol). They are both being investigated for the alleged theft of 124 million pesos as part of the Master Fraud investigation, which at the end of Peña Nieto term, according to federal audit sources, amounted to as much as 15 billion pesos. However, that is just a spot within the whole ink spill.
Fiscal Gertz said that the swindle, allegedly committed by or under Rosario, is a lot bigger than the one committed by Lozoya.
In addition, if Rosario stays mum and insists on maintain her innocence, the state will never see those funds returned, regardless of the time Rosario and the other alleged Master Fraud colleagues get in jail.
“Simply put,” Gertz said, “Lozoya opted for collaborating to clear up these deeds of corruption and Robles did not.”
Another aspect of the Cantor Toad, as Lozoya has been labeled by pundits, is that by now the legal course of action against him is pretty much set. Lozoya is offering dozens of items of proof of widespread corruption (some of it minor, but still, corruption), far beyond just Peña Nieto and Videgaray. For instance, he said he delivered bribes to over a dozen National Action Party (PAN) officials, including the current governors of the states of Tamaulipas and Querétaro, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca and Francisco Domínguez, respectively. Lozoya has also smeared the name of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, allegedly connecting him to a corrupt fraud involving the company Etileno XXI’s alleged attempt to steal money from the nation.
No doubt, the Cantor Toad’s videos are incriminating, so much so that on Monday, Aug 17, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said, “This is an issue of national interest to have Lozoya’s videos made public, both on regular television and social media.” In other words, he said, “Read my lips; they will be aired.”
The Lozoya trial is bound to be programmed to be held through the first half of 2021, just in time for the rising noise of the midterm elections. Definitely, once-popular political parties like the PAN and Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) are likely to come up badly mangled in the electoral fray.
In addition, it could be much worse if the Fiscal General of the Republic opts for charging political panhandlers with crimes of corruption, which would lead perhaps into what could amount to political show trials. Still, given the electoral timing, their damage could be colossal.
Many expect that the Cantor Toad’s croaks may be enough to have former President Peña Nieto jailed.
That, however, is not likely to happen, and in the end, AMLO and his people at the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) are out to collect ransom, along with votes.
Having Lozoya squeaking to save his own derriere – treason, some claim – may not bring much cash back into the nation’s coffers, but it will generate vote-stuffed boxes galore for Morena.
And as or Rosario Robles? Who’s that?
…Aug. 18, 2020