By MARK LORENZANA
Allegations of fraud have plagued the Mexican Food System (Segalmex), an agency created by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) — the latest of which involves irregularities of at least 9.5 billion pesos, according to a report by Mexican daily newspaper Reforma on Tuesday, July 26.
In the Reforma report, Segalmex in 2021 allegedly failed to provide proof of the distribution of corn and beans amounting to 212 million pesos, and did not provide written evidence of the receipt of goods and services that generated liabilities of 269 million pesos. In addition, there were alleged irregularities recorded in financial statements for the value of grain that the agency had procured.
Segalmex was designed by the AMLO government to replace the National Commission of Popular Supplies (Conasupo), which was dedicated to guaranteeing the regulation of prices in the basket of basic food items in Mexico, particularly the price of corn. Conasupo was created in 1961 during the government of former Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos, and also gave rise to the Milk Hydration Company, which would eventually become Liconsa. Conasupo became defunct in 1999, and later became Diconsa.
In 2018, López Obrador merged Liconsa and Diconsa and announced the creation of a new agency, which he later named Segalmex. At that time, AMLO also announced that Ignacio Ovalle Fernández — who previously served as general director of Conasupo — would head Segalmex.
An article on June 3 of this year by Mexican correspondent Georgina Zerega, for Madrid-based daily newspaper El País, described Ovalle Fernández as “a career politician of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and a former friend” of López Obrador. The article also went on to detail that Ovalle Fernández lasted just over two years as the head of Segalmex, and that “under his administration, the agency was submerged in multiple accusations of corruption.”
“In July of last year, an investigation by Mexicans against Corruption and Impunity indicated that Segalmex granted 797 million pesos between 2019 and 2020 in direct awards to a network of six companies whose partners had participated in shell companies,” the El País story read, and that “these contracts were signed during the management of Ovalle and then-Segalmex Finance Director René Gavira Segreste, who left office in June 2020 amid accusations of corruption.”
In April of this year, López Obrador relieved Ovalle Fernández from his position as head of Segalmex, and replaced him with Leonel Cota, former governor of Baja California Sur.
In the latest allegations to hit Segalmex, the Reforma report said three former officials of the agency, who were not identified by name, allegedly misappropriated 29.6 million pesos that they received in 2019 for “travel expenses.” These expenses have not been verified, and are already being investigated by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (FGR).
For “reasons of austerity,” according to the Reforma report, Segalmex, Liconsa and Diconsa currently have a single governing body.