Attorney General's Office Drops Key Criminal Charges in Pemex Campaign-Finance Scandal

Article excerpt

In a surprising development, the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) has dropped charges of money-laundering and racketeering against members of the petroleum workers union (Sindicato de Trabajadores Petroleros de la Republica Mexicana, STPRM) and the former governing Partido Revolucarionario Institucional (PRI).

The STPRM and several key officials had been accused of diverting funds from the state-run oil company PEMEX into the campaign of PRI presidential candidate Francisco Labastida Ochoa in 2000, in a case commonly known as Pemexgate (see SourceMex, 2002-01-30).

Earlier this year, the federal electoral watchdog Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) found the STPRM and the PRI guilty of electoral violations and imposed a stiff fine to the former governing party (see SourceMex, 2003-03-19). The decision to drop the criminal charge does not cancel the election-violations fine because the two involved separate investigations.

A special PGR unit, which had been investigating the money-laundering and organized-crime case, said there was insufficient evidence that funds used for the campaign originated from an illegal source, and therefore the charges of money-laundering and organized crime were not applicable.

PGR officials said they were still investigating charges that some former PEMEX officials may have embezzled funds from the oil company during the 2000 campaign. Among those under investigation is ex-PEMEX director Rogelio Montemayor Seguy, who has fled to the US and is fighting extradition back to Mexico (see SourceMex, 2002-06-26).

Still, the PGR's decision to drop the most serious criminal charges in the Pemexgate case was seen as a victory for the PRI. Some members of the party went as far as to accuse President Vicente Fox's administration of fabricating the charges to help the center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) in the July 6 congressional and gubernatorial elections.

"It is an extreme shame that the government used the justice-procurement instruments to advance its electoral agenda," said PRI Sen. Humberto Roque Villanueva.

Roque said the PRI would have taken some sort of action against the government if the Pemexgate prosecutions had affected the outcome of the election. The PRI increased its numbers in the Chamber of Deputies and won four of the six gubernatorial races (see SourceMex, 2003-07-09). "We came out well from these elections," said Roque. "Otherwise, we would have had grounds to ask for moral compensation."

Critics accuse Fox government, PRI of collusion

The center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) offered a different interpretation of the PGR decision, suggesting some collusion between the Fox government and the PRI. "You cannot keep saying for months that fraud took place, that you have evidence of organized crime, and later come back and say that practically nothing occurred," said Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is often mentioned as the likely PRD candidate for president in 2006.

Members of a dissident petroleum-workers union, the Frente Nacional Petrolero (FNP), also criticized the decision to let the STPRM leaders off the hook. Union members held a protest in front of the PGR to demand that the case be reopened. Jose Ovidio Puente, a legal counsel to the FNP, said the union has asked US authorities to keep frozen US$43.2 million in STPRM and PEMEX funds that are still in the US. "We are asking for the intervention of the US government in the face of the ineptitude shown by our attorney general," said Ovidio.

Jaime Cardenas, the PRD's representative in the IFE, demanded a public explanation for the PGR decision. "Otherwise, this could be interpreted as an arrangement between the PRI and the PAN, which is not acceptable," said Cardenas.

Among the rumors circulating was that the government agreed to drop the Pemexgate charges in exchange for leniency in Fox's own case involving campaign-finance violations. …