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Customs Corruption at the Baja California Border: "Ghost" Businesses, Bribery and Ties to "El Narco"

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“Yaqui” for Borderland Beat

Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) denounces corruption in Customs Agencies of Tijuana, Mexicali and Tecate, Baja California; “ghost” companies, bribes, and ties to ‘El Narco’

The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) initiated 10 investigation files against several former heads of the General Administration of Customs (Aduanas) that, according to the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), a branch of the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit (SHCP), allowed illegal access of merchandise, fuel, drugs and weapons to Mexico. These ten officials were appointed by the current administration in charge of the country’s most important customs offices.

All this through banking operations for more than one billion pesos from possible bribes; acquisition of houses, apartments or land at illogical prices or payments made instantly; transfers with multiple probable shell companies; family members used as pen names; gambling in casinos and even possible links with organized crime.

According to a report by the digital medium Animal Político, signed by journalists Arturo Ángel, Zedryk Raziel and Francisco Sandoval, these were some of the alleged acts of corruption that the UIF identified when reviewing the financial environment of a dozen customs foreign trade officials, who during the last months,  were criminally denounced before the FGR for possible money laundering and acts of corruption.

The “cleaning” in the 49 agencies of the country began in 2020, in a joint action of the General Administration of Customs (AGA), with Horacio Duarte as head, and the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), led by Santiago Nieto.

As a result of this operation, 29 trade officials were dismissed for “loss of confidence”, and of them, 10 were reported to the FGR by the UIF.

The investigations identified two main sources of corruption that significantly affected the collection of resources: one in Baja California, through the illegal introduction of “chocolate” cars and firearms, and another in Tamaulipas, through the entry of fuel from Texas without paying taxes.

The serious thing, according to the investigations, is that these two customs cartels extended their corruption networks to other agencies in the country that are also key due to their location in areas of high commercial traffic or near ports.

The same report indicated that those involved had already been designated during the current government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, – AMLO- by the General Administrator of Customs, Ricardo Peralta Saucedo, who according to internal complaints in the Tax Administration Service (SAT) , allegedly knew of these alleged acts of corruption.

In its complaints, the UIF warns that unusual operations around the administrators would be the result of “predicate offenses” or prior, and, specifically, alleged bribes for having allowed illegal activities at the customs facilities they were in charge of, same as they range from smuggling hydrocarbons or “huachicoleo”, to possible drug trafficking, arms and human trafficking.

“The bank accounts involved in these operations were blocked at the request of the UIF, while the FGR initiated an investigation folder for each case that at this moment are still being put together.  All the administrators involved were removed from their positions in Customs and at the same time internal investigations were initiated in the SAT and in the Ministry of Public Function [SFP], ” the report added.

According to Animal Político, the UIF criminally denounced the customs administrators of Tijuana, Baja California, Eva María Viridiana Soria Amador; from Mexicali, Raymundo Humberto Jiménez Lázaro; and from Tecate, David Pérez Tejada Padilla. “All were separated from their positions at the end of last December,” said the digital medium.

“According to the criminal complaints, these people were in collusion with another former administrator named Alejandro Miramontes Armenta – who is also under investigation by the UIF – with the aim of consolidating an alleged network of corruption in Customs which allowed the entry of chocolate cars, but also from firearms ”, explained Animal Político.

“70 % of the weapons that arrive in our country have to do with income via the United States. Plus, they enter through mechanisms such as “chocolate” cars in Mexicali. We confirm this fact and we also denounce a particular Customs Agent involved in this operation, ”said Santiago Nieto Castillo, head of the UIF, at the time.

According to federal sources cited by Animal Político, the official denounced is Roberto Ruiz Armas, who through his company Automotores 2017, SA de CV, has earned more than 161 million pesos”, all without paying taxes, for the last few years via “chocolates” aka illegal importation of vehicles from the US.

For example, in the case of Soria Amador -former Tijuana customs administrator- the UIF denounced the purchase of a cashier’s check for 5 million pesos and a few days later the acquisition of an apartment in the Anáhuac neighborhood of Mexico City, for 5.7 million pesos. It was also identified that his brother received 5.7 million pesos in his accounts, of which he withdrew five million. This added to another deposit of six million pesos in a period of four months, between November 2016 and February 2017.

After being removed from her position as Tijuana Customs Administrator, Soria Amador was appointed by the governor of Baja California, Jaime Bonilla Valdez, as head of the SAT of said entity. This despite the fact that she was fired at the federal level for “loss of confidence” and criminally denounced.

In the case of Tejeda Padilla – former administrator of the Tecate Customs and who was also a federal deputy for the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM) – the first thing that caught the UIF’s attention was his high rating in a risk model the unit has to identify possible money laundering, with 7.39 out of 10 possible points.

According to the Animal Político report, when reviewing the operations of Tejeda Padilla, the alleged sale of a house valued at 10 million was found in a single million pesos. Likewise, his relatives, including a brother, have been investigated for possible corruption.

While in the case of Jiménez Lázaro, former Mexicali Customs Administrator, the UIF also identified him as “a focus of alert”, scoring 6.93 in the risk model, so on March 4, 2020 the financial group CitiBanamex issued an alert to the Federal Government for unusual operations on this person.

In addition to this, the Financial Intelligence Unit identified 650,000 pesos not reported, in one of Jiménez Lázaro’s accounts, as well as operations for more than half a million pesos on another relative of the former Mexicali customs administrator.

On August 31, 2020, the Ministry of the Interior (SEGOB) reported that on the instructions of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as of September 1 of that same year, Ricardo Peralta Saucedo will conclude his functions as undersecretary of the Government of said institution.

“The @SEGOB_mx informs that by virtue of the austerity measures and by instructions of the president @lopezobrador_, as of September 1, the Undersecretary of Government, @Ricar_peralta concludes his functions in the agency. (1/2) ”, indicated the Government in his account of the social network Twitter.

“We appreciate your enormous commitment and honorable work at the service of the country. We congratulate him, wishing him success in the next task, consolidating and strengthening the Fourth Transformation of the country’s public life, ” SEGOB added in another tweet.

“I am grateful for the honor and trust of the President @lopezobrador_ and the Secretary @M_OlgaSCordero for the task of resolving conflicts and guaranteeing the governability of the nation. With love for the country, I will continue to build the # 4T in the next assignment, “replied Peralta Saucedo in said social network.

Accusations of Being Related to Drug Trafficking Groups:

On August 19, 2020, during the LIX Plenary Meeting of the National Conference of Governors (CONAGO), with the Federal Cabinet and the head of the Federal Executive Power, Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, Governor of Tamaulipas, accused Peralta Saucedo, of having met with the members of a criminal organization called the Columna Armada Pedro J. Méndez , an armed extension of  the Cártel del Golfo.

“Criminals who have an arrest warrant from not only the local Prosecutor’s Office, but also from the Attorney General’s Office. And the day before he made a presence in Tamaulipas, he was alerted to this situation, even so he went and met with those people who had arrest warrants, ”García Cabeza de Vaca continued.

“This same undersecretary who instead of paying for the reconstruction of peace in the country, uses most of his time as a representative to filter stories in the media. These types of complaints turn into political persecution but, beyond that, they put at risk, in addition to my integrity and that of my family, all the forces of order in my state, ”said the governor.

“You cannot play like that with the commitment and the life of the Tamaulipas. That is not only irresponsible, but also criminal, ” added García Cabeza de Vaca, who reported that he presented himself to the FGR to hear the accusations against him and asked the head of SEGOB, Olga Sánchez Cordero Dávila, to help him to have the request answered.

The head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) of the Ministry of Finance, Santiago Nieto Castillo, began yesterday the exhibition of evidence to request the violation of the governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, whom he accused of the acquisition of various properties in Mexico and the United States, using companies linked to the Sinaloa Cartel.

Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Javier Garcia Cabeza de Vaca

During a virtual hearing of the Investigative Section of the Chamber of Deputies –which was held publicly for the first time, through television and social networks–, Nieto pointed out that the PAN president would have used an “irregular scheme” to acquire several departments and ranches.

Similarly, he mentioned that Garcías Cabeza de Vaca – whom he only identified as Francisco “N” – bought through partners and relatives various properties in Reynosa, Tamaulipas and in the state of Texas, United States, valued at prices ranging from from 5.9 to 10.7 million pesos.

“In general, we have a disparity between the properties belonging to the family (of the governor of Tamaulipas) and the income that he may have had in his years of service,” said Nieto Castillo.

However, the head of the UIF highlighted the participation of a Multiple Purpose Financial Company in a scheme of “irregular acquisition” of at least three farms, in which said entity received money from several commercial companies, despite the fact that they were on the list of entities blocked for having been used by the Sinaloa Cartel to launder money.

“Undersecretary Ricardo Peralta was in Tamaulipas, I talked about it with you, and he met with the members of a criminal organization called the Columna Armada,” said García Cabeza de Vaca in front of Sánchez Cordero Dávila and other governors.

“Madam Secretary Minister: the Federal Government will have all my determination for there to be security and justice in the country. I call you to get to work on that and only on that ”, said the governor of Tamaulipas at the end of his participation in the Plenary Meeting of CONAGO.

Peralta Saucedo went in August 2019 to the city of Hidalgo, Tamaulipas, to an event attended by Octavio Leal Moncada, alias “El Tarzán” and Cesáreo Leal, leaders of the Pedro J. Méndez Columna Armada, a self-defense group , which emerged in 2010, accused of having ties with the Gulf Cartel, and of being enemies of Los Zetas.

This group “is not a civil organization, it is an organ of the Gulf Cartel, its operating scheme and its discourse are very similar to that expressed at the time by La Familia, Los Templarios and some of the self-defense groups in Michoacán and Guerrero, actually linked to different cartels, especially Jalisco Nueva Generación ”.

“They appeared,” that text continued, “ in 2014 in the municipalities of Hidalgo, Villagrán and Mainero, in south-central Tamaulipas, and intelligence agencies have since reported them as a Gulf Cartel group, used for political propaganda and to confront Los Zetas, whose murders have been publicly attributed to them on several occasions. 

The Undersecretary of the Interior, Ricardo Peralta met with the Tamaulipas self-defense groups, who are presumed to be linked to organized crime (Photo: Facebook / Ricardo Peralta Saucedo)

The Presidential Rejection of  Peralta Saucedo:

On August 22, 2019, when questioned about Peralta Saucedo’s visit to La Huacana, Michoacán, where the federal official spoke with self-defense groups to lay down his arms, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke out against them, and insisted that groups of this type are not within the constitutional framework.

The national president insisted in his morning press conference that the formation of these armed civilian groups “was not convenient and they were groups sponsored by the government itself. It does not correspond to the Constitution ”, ( this the later phase of Los Autodefenses when they had agreed to try and work within gov’t constraints ).

The head of the Federal Executive Power was questioned as to whether he agreed with the intention of the Ministry of the Interior to approach the self-defense groups, to which López Obrador answered emphatically: “I do not agree.”

The Tabasco politician added that Peralta Saucedo made the decision to go to that town because he was invited, and “this matter has already been discussed in the Security Cabinet and [the undersecretary] has been asked to adjust to what is established in the Constitution and laws ”.

In addition, López Obrador added that “there can be no illegal groups performing public security functions, this shows an inability of the State to meet the demand for security, which is fundamental. It is a fulfillment of the duty of the State and we are not going to breach our legal responsibilities ”.

“It has nothing to do with an authentic rule of law, who has to guarantee the security of citizens is the State, there cannot be illegal groups performing public security functions, that should not be allowed, that shows an inability to attend to security ” said the president.

Peralta’s Arrival to the Secretariat of the Interior (SEGOB)

On May 23, 2019, Peralta Saucedo ceased to function as General Administrator of Customs in the SAT, to occupy the title of the Undersecretariat of Government in the SEGOB, replacing Zoe Alejandro Robledo Aburto, who took the general direction of the Mexican Institute of the Social Security (IMSS).

Peralta Saucedo is a lawyer from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and a teacher in Constitutional and Administrative Law from that same educational institution. He has specialties in Law Enforcement, Organized Crime, National Security and the Oral and Adversarial Penal System; As well as the prevention of money laundering and anti-corruption. 

In addition, he was trained by the French National Police in judicial investigation. In the public administration, he has held various positions in the Legislative Assembly of the then Federal District (ALDF), the Attorney General’s Office (PGR), the Attorney General’s Office of the Federal District (PGJDF), among other institutions.

In the private sector, he has been the representative in Mexico of the Spanish-Israeli international consulting firm Secindef, a specialist in intelligence, counterintelligence and prevention of terrorism and its financing. In addition to the General Legal Director of the Chilean transnational Alto México; Legal Director and Legal representative of more than 80 companies that make up Grupo Autofin México, with 11 years in that position.

For 10 years he has been a professor at UNAM and has given keynote lectures, diplomas, courses and workshops on the National Anti-Corruption System and the new Adversarial Penal System.

Peralta Saucedo is a columnist for the Excélsior and La Jornada Maya newspapers, in addition to having written more than 200 articles in various national and international media.

Source: ZetaTJ / El Diario / LaJornada / Animal Politico



Source: http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2021/04/customs-corruption-at-baja-california.html



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