Crime & Justice

Extradited ex-Pemex head poised to expose high-level graft in Mexico

By Marti Quintana

Mexico City, Jul 17 (efe-epa).- The former head of Mexican state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), who has been extradited from Spain and arrived in his homeland early Friday, is expected to provide evidence that directly implicates officials of the previous government in multiple corruption cases.

Emilio Lozoya had been scheduled to appear before a judge on Friday at the Reclusorio Norte prison in this capital, where he is to be jailed.

But Mexico’s top prosecutor’s office – the autonomous FGR – said that court appearance has been delayed after a medical examination showed the defendant is suffering from anemia, problems with his esophagus and “general weakness.”

It is expected that in his role as a “cooperating witness” – the term used Friday by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – Lozoya will help prosecutors get to the bottom of multiple alleged fraud and corruption cases during former head of state Enrique Peña Nieto’s 2012-2018 administration.

A 45-year-old economist with extensive international experience and the scion of a politically well-connected family, Lozoya was arrested in Malaga, Spain, on Feb. 12 after months as a fugitive.

Lozoya, who served as Pemex’s chief executive officer from 2012 to 2016, is accused of accepting around $10.5 million in bribes from Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht.

Odebrecht and its petrochemical unit Braskem reached a settlement in December 2016 with the United States’ Department of Justice in which they pleaded guilty to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world in exchange for contracts.

Lozoya also has been charged with taking millions in bribes in connection with Pemex’s 2013 purchase of a fertilizer plant that had not been operational for more than a decade. The government was allegedly defrauded of $280 million through that purchase.

Lopez Obrador, whose anti-corruption bona fides were a key element in his landslide 2018 presidential election victory, says he is confident that Lozoya’s testimony will shine a light on alleged illegal schemes used by members of Peña Nieto’s administration to push through reforms such as the 2013 energy overhaul, which opened Mexico’s energy sector to private investment for the first time since 1938.

One of the big questions surrounding Lozoya’s extradition is whether his cooperation could implicate Peña Nieto and members of his former inner circle.

Lozoya apparently has recordings in his possession showing evidence of bribes related to the passage of the energy-sector overhaul.

Nevertheless, Lopez Obrador has repeatedly said that Peña Nieto – a member of the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) – will only be investigated if Mexican citizens decide on that course of action via a referendum.

The Senate majority leader, Ricardo Monreal of the ruling National Regeneration Movement (Morena), said the evidence the ex-Pemex chief will provide will cause a “political earthquake.”

But Khemvirg Puente, a political scientist and coordinator of the graduate program in political and social sciences at Mexico City’s National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Efe on Friday that he expects “a lot of noise but not necessarily justice.”

“The government can use (the trial) to distract attention,” he said, adding that the case will allow Lopez Obrador once again to wave the anti-corruption banner. EFE-EPA


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