By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The Pandora Papers, which were released on Sunday, Oct. 3, by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), exposing the offshore financial havens and hidden riches of some of the world’s biggest movers and shakers, has opened a whole new can of worms for the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who is constantly claiming that he and his administration are “corruption-free.”
Not only did the cache of 11.8 million documents of confidential financial files expose the dubious wealth of one of the president’s closest friends and former legal advisor, Julio Scherer Ibarra (who resigned from the post just last month), but it also implicated a slew of Morena militants who might now have some serious explaining to do to both the president and the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), Mexico’s Treasury Secretariat’s (Hacienda, or SHCP) legal watchdog division that sniffs out fiscal evasions and financial crimes.
Along with the revelation that Scherer Ibarra — who once famously quipped that reporters should be silenced — has a hefty little nest egg of $2 million in the British Virgin Islands and a luxury apartment in Miami (all apparently undeclared to the SHCP), but he has Morena cohort company in his alleged crimes.
Also joining the dubious ranks of the world’s secretive rich-and-famous (maybe make that rich-and-infamous) are Mexico’s Secretary of Communications and Transportation Jorge Arganis Díaz Leal and Julia Abdala Lemus, the common-law wife of Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) Director Manuel Bartlett Díaz (yup, that same guy who AMLO wants to control all electric energy production, management and distribution in the country).
If it’s any consolation to Scherer Ibarra, Díaz Leal and Bartlett Díaz, they are not alone in Mexico’s take-the-money-and-hide-it crowd.
According to the Pandora Papers report, at least 3,047 Mexicans — including the likes of mining magnate Germán Larrea, Modelo beer heiress María Asunción Aramburuzabala and hotel, insurance and hospital conglomerate owner Olegario Vázquez Aldir, whose collective offshore accounts amount to more than $30 billion — used international tax havens to conceal their financial assets.
Using shell companies and bank accounts in fake names to purchase luxurious properties, private jets and other investments, allegedly without paying the corresponding taxes, the members of Mexico’s 3,047 Club managed — up until Sunday, at least — to keep their more than $35 billion in assets confidential.
But, thanks to the ICIJ, the newly leaked corporate records, stock certificates, financial statements, property titles, emails and legal deeds have now revealed the true owners of these offshore firms, whose identity would have typically been kept hidden under the layers of anonymity that foreign tax havens traditionally offer.
And while having an offshore account is not a crime in Mexico, any failure to report those assets to Hacienda or the use of said accounts to obscure acts of money laundering or other illicit financial acts most certainly is.
It still remains to be seen is the Mexicans implemented in the Pandora Papers exposé will be able to justify their assets and prove that they were duly reported to the SHCP, along with making the payment of the corresponding taxes.
For now, Scherer Ibarra and company might want to be the ones to keep silent.