By RICARDO CASTILLO
Lozoya Case Postponed
The start date for the trial of former Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) Director Emilio Lozoya Austin was postponed on request of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office due to pandemic-related complications. The deadline was supposed to be last Sunday, March 7.
Judge José Artemio Zúñiga Mendoza, however, granted investigators more time to conclude the presentation of their case against Lozoya, accused of corruption in the Odebrecht case, as well as for the purchase of an obsolete fertilizer plant at an alleged $200 million overcharge overprice from tycoon Alonso Ancira, now in detention at the Northside Mexico City Penitentiary.
The new date has yet to be defined, but is expected to be slated for the middle of April. In the meantime, the accused Lozoya Austin is free as a protected witness, but under police surveillance and wearing an electronic detection bracelet.
In the Odebrecht case, Lozoya is accused of receiving $10.5 million, partly allegedly used to support the 2012 electoral campaign of former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
In this interim, Lozoya’s defense attorney Miguel Ontiveros Alonso is expected to request an abbreviated trial and a minimum sentence as Lozoya, who is already pointing the finger at other possible culprits in the cases he was involved, implicating several high-level officials such as former Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray and, possibly even Peña Nieto himself.
Tax Evaders Abound
Mexico’s Tax Administration System (SAT) Director Raquel Buenrostro revealed on Monday, March 8, that her office will be expanding investigations into possible tax evasion and money laundering activities of some 12,000 retail store chains and the finance sector to detect potential culprits.
Buenrostro said that SAT officials will be targeting companies with more than a 1.5 billion pesos in annual incomes and expects that this year alone will audit at least 600 of the suspect companies.
Asked during a press conference if she could mention specific companies currently under surveillance and possible audit, Buenrostro said that she could not “given tax investigations secrecy regulations.” but noted that she would enforce the government’s “right to collect” unpaid taxes in agreement with the managements of tardy enterprises.
She said that her investigations are not political or intended to be unfair, but that the SAT has won 80 percent of cases in which it has demanded overdue payments, and 98 percent of the cases in which the indicted parties had to appear in court.
“Last year we collected almost 300 billion pesos from tax evaders,” she said, “and we’re now proceeding with 600 audits for this year.”
At that same press conference, Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) Director Santiago Nieto Castillo, also of the Treasury Secretariat, said that the international search for Raúl Beyruti Sánchez, nicknamed by the Mexican media as the “King of (Employee) Outsourcing” continues. Beyruti is charged with eight counts of financial criminal activities.
Beyruti, owner of the GINgroup conglomerate, outsources some 200,000 employees for companies such as Walmart, retail furniture chain Femsa, paint company Comex and the HSBC and Santander banks.
On a related issue, the UIF on Tuesday, March 9, formally denounced before the Attorney General former Deputy Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre o0n charges of alleged organized criminal activities, prostitution-related human trafficking and money laundering.
A judge has ordered Gutiérrez’s banking accounts frozen, and issued an arrest warrant.
Gutiérrez, who has served as the Mexico City leader of the centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has adamantly denied the charges against him.
Peso on the Skids
The U.S. dollar is steadily gaining strength against world currencies, including the Mexican peso.
This was the result of a slight increase in the gains of U.S. treasury bonds, as well as a reaction to the $1.9 trillion covid-19 stimulus package President Joe Biden presented to Congress. It’s been approved by the Senate and expected to pass at the House of Representatives this week.
On Tuesday, March 9, the interbank peso rate was quoted at 21.22 per U.S. dollar for purchase and 21.23 for sale, but in the open market BBVA Bancomer was buying it at 20.55 to the dollar and selling at 21.45 per dollar.
In Mexico, some see the surge as a temporary event given the increase in oil prices (regular gasoline in Mexico broke the 20-peso-a-liter threshold this week).
But over all, most analysts believe the peso-dollar rate will soon stabilize and return to the 19 to 20 peso-per dollar parity that it had two weeks ago, even though as of last week the peso had suffered a 4.44 percent devaluation in just four days.
Meanwhile, the official inflation rate in Mexico hit 3.76 percent, its highest rate in four months.
But on the upside, on Monday, March 8, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to which Mexico is a member since 1994, upgraded it prediction for the country’s 2021 growth to 4.5 percent, up from 3.6 percent it had predicted in December.
Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said Tuesday, March 6, that Mexico’s access to the yet-unproven Chinese covid-19 vaccines Sinovac and Sinopharm has increased to 32 million doses, to be used between now and July.
Ebrard said that the Mexican government has signed agreements for 12 million doses of the yet-unapproved Sinopharm vaccine and increased to a total of 20 million doses its contracts for the Sinovac vaccine.
Sinopharm and Sinovac have claimed their vaccines are more than 75 percent effective based on interim data from clinical trials, but like the other Chinese covid vaccine, CanSino, they have not yet released Phase 3 clinical trial data.
A total of six vaccines have so far been approved for use in Mexico, and about 3 million doses of all vaccines have been administered by government vaccine brigades.
Ebrard, speaking during Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) daily press conference at the National Palace, also said that the bottling in Mexico of the Chinese CanSino Biologics antigen continues smoothly and that more than 1 million vaccines will be in use by the end of March. Their bottling is currently under technical observation.
On a related issue, Ebrard announced that Mexican consulates in the United States will be opening vaccinations centers in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Boise, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas during March. They will immunization services to the Mexican community abroad.
Even though the most controversial candidacy for governor is that of AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party, Felix Salgado Macedonio, for Guerrero, who has been accused by three separate women of rape, the second-most controversial is that of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), centralist PRI and leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) alliance, Maria Eugenia “Maru” Campos, who is running for the gubernatorial seat in the northern state of Chihuahua.
Campos stands accused of taking bribes of several million pesos from former PRI governor. César Duarte Jáquez.
On Tuesday, March 9, Judge Delia Meléndez in Chihuahua City called a recess to determine whether the accusation against “Maru” are state or federal, since the monies in Duarte’s alleged secret budget were of federal government origin.
The decision as to whether to try the case locally or federally has yet to be made. If federal, the case will be moved to a federal judge.
By the sake token, Morena was expected to decide on Salgado’s candidacy on Tuesday evening.
…March 10, 2021