By JESSICA GUERRERO
MORELIA, Michoacán — A few weeks ago, a media scandal erupted in Mexico after the announcement of an arrest warrant issued by federal authorities for well-known television host Inés Gómez Mont and her husband Victor Manuel Álvarez Puga.
The Mexican government issued an international Interpol alert against the couple in order to prevent their possible flight to another country and, thus, avoid the charges of alleged tax evasion and the money laundering of some 3 billion pesos.
The trail soon led to the uncovering of an even larger scandal involving that even implicated former President Enrique Peña Nieto and, more recently, former Michoacán Silvano Aureoles Conejo, who has since been accused of the alleged use of illegal espionage practices.
According to documents presented by current Michoacán Governor Alfredo Ramírez Bedolla, a member of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party, one of the multiple technology companies owned by Álvarez Puga, Integra Software SA, signed a contract in 2017 with the Aureoles Conejo administration to acquire specialized espionage equipment and software worth $19.5 million.
The espionage services that this company allegedly provided to Aureoles Conejo allowed for possible remote access to Facebook and WhatsApp accounts of various users, not only within the state of Michoacán, but across a large segment of Mexico.
According to the information allegedly disclosed in the contract, the company was supposed to constantly monitor and update the IP addresses throughout the territory of the state and each of its municipalities. It would also install 12 terminals and monitoring screens within the state.
Likewise, the document allegedly detailed the maintenance and service conditions for the terminals.
Also, there was alleged mention in the document of the monitoring of strategic financial intelligence objectives to be executed by the software company through its own technological platforms.
Regarding the purported monitoring center from where these operations were allegedly carried out, the current state administration in Michoacán has confirmed that it has no knowledge or physical evidence of espionage services provided by Álvarez Puga’s company other than the aforementioned contract.
Nor is there any information regarding the purpose of the alleged services or the scope of the purported espionage, which, if real, would have violated the privacy of hundreds of inhabitants of Michoacán over a period of at least four years..
Aureoles Conejo — who served as governor from 2015 to 2021 under the left-leaning Party fo the Democratic Revolution (PRD) banner and who was at constant political odds with AMLO — has also been associated with other alleged crimes and scandals.
To date, the former governor has been unable to explain the destination of 16 billion pesos, part of the state budget, which were brought to light in July after the Federal Superior Auditor (ASF) concluded an extensive audit and revision of the state’s public accounts during his mandate.
The alleged excesses of Aureoles Conejo and the supposed eccentricity of his lifestyle have also been spotlighted recently when it was reported by the current state administration that he had paid 218 million pesos a year for the rental of aircraft for personal purposes, as well as for the transportation of his relatives and other government officials.
The expenditures of Aureoles Conejo did not stop there. Allegedly, 424 workers assigned to the state’s payroll were required to serve him and his family as body guards, drivers and personal assistants.
Likewise, a recent report revealed a secret construction within the premises of the state-owned property where he lived until the end of his governorship. The 120-square-meter construction resembled a bunker, with three sections accessed first through a wooden door and then another bulletproof portal.
The fitting and adaptation of this bunker allegedly cost the people of Michoacán 12 million pesos, according to contracts signed in 2020 by the administration of Aureoles Conejo and Recam Construcción, a construction company with which the state government had several contracts to build schools and bicycle lanes.
All of the above allegedly happened in parallel to purported austerity measures imposed by Aureoles Conejo regarding state finances, including the temporary suspension of salaries for teachers and other local public officials.
Ramírez Bedolla has claimed that the Aureoles Conejo administration (which concluded last month) left the state technical bankruptcy, with a financial gap close to 50 billion pesos: 22 billion pesos in public bank debt, 13 billion pesos in budget deficit and the rest in debts to institutional third parties, such as 4.8 billion pesos due to the Social Security and Services for State Workers (ISSSTE), 1.58 billion pesos due to the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), and 500 million pesos due to the Civil Pensions Fund.