Mexico’s Corrupt Governors

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Mexico, corruption, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Chihuahua, Durango, PRI, Zacatecas, Oaxaca, Hidalgo, Aguascalientes, Javier Duarte, Roberto Borge, Cesar Duarte, Miguel Alonso, Gabino Cue, Francisco Olvera, Carlos Lozano, PAN, PGR, SAT, nepotism, money laundering, embezzlement, money laundering, illicit enrichment, fraud, anticorruption

Javier Duarte, governor of the state of Veracruz, attends a news conference in Xalapa, Mexico, August 10, 2015 (Reuters/Stringer).

Last June, Mexico elected new governors in twelve of its thirty-one states. As millions of voters went to the urns, corruption was a top concern (along with insecurity). Eight states saw the incumbent party kicked out; in four—Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Chihuahua, and Durango—the PRI lost for the first time in the party’s history.

The voter outrage behind this rout seems to be rooted in reality. Seven of the outgoing governors face serious corruption allegations; in five of these investigations are already underway, either by the Mexican or U.S. government. Here is a rundown of their alleged misdeeds:

The most egregious accusations surround the outgoing PRI governors of Veracruz, Quintana Roo, and Chihuahua.

In Veracruz, still Governor Javier Duarte (PRI) is being investigated by Mexico’s attorney general’s office (PGR) for embezzlement and illicit enrichment. News reports count at least 646 million pesos—roughly $48 million dollars—in government contracts to phantom companies. In response the PRI has distanced itself, taking away Duarte’s party privileges.

Quintana Roo’s former Governor Roberto Borge (PRI) is under investigation by Mexico’s tax authority (SAT) following a CNN exposé alleging that he led a vast fraud ring, systematically robbing individual’s and businesses’ real estate and bank accounts. In just one day, authorities took over four hotels worth 340 million pesos. Televisa journalists also uncovered sales of protected lands to Borge’s friends on the cheap, and his use of public money to fund his own personal airline.

In Chihuahua, the PGR is investigating former Governor César Duarte (PRI) for illicit enrichment and money laundering, based on allegations that he directed 80 billion pesos in public funds into a bank he partially owned. He is also facing a lawsuit from a Spanish corporation for trying to use public funds to pay off $2 million of a $4 million dollar personal debt.

All three governors attempted to protect themselves against prosecutions before stepping down, setting up ahead-of-schedule state-level anticorruption offices and then packing them with their cronies. So far, the Supreme Court has struck down both Duartes’ actions, and Borge’s case is pending.

In Zacatecas, former Governor Miguel Alonso (PRI) is being investigated by the PGR for embezzlement and illicit enrichment for buying protected land before it was rezoned for residential or commercial use. Local legislators also accuse him of receiving kickbacks for government contracts—paid to his brother Juan Manuel Alonso.

In Oaxaca, outgoing Governor Gabino Cué (PAN) is under investigation by U.S. authorities for possible money laundering, following the movement of tens of millions of dollars through the bank accounts of his close associates.

In Hidalgo, the press uncovered that former Governor Francisco Olvera (PRI) spent hundreds of thousands of pesos to attend the Super Bowl and bring chart-topping musicians to play at his private parties, all supposedly on his governor’s salary. He also used his government helicopter for personal fun, including going to a soccer game.

Finally in Aguascalientes, news exposés accuse outgoing Governor Carlos Lozano (PRI) of nepotism, maneuvering his nephew into control of the state’s finances.

Those ending their tenure in the remaining five states have not yet been accused of illegal financial dealings, though rumors of using public funds for self-promotion, ties to drug cartels, and missing financial documents swirl around many of them.

This corruption—part of the morass that costs the Mexican economy up to 10 percent of GDP each year—motivated voters last summer. It is time now for the judicial branch to step forward and play its democratic role—investigating, prosecuting, and convicting the guilty.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations.