Crime & Justice

Odebrecht bribery case in Mexico steaming along 2 mo. after explosive start

By Pedro Pablo Cortes

Mexico City, Sep 28 (efe-epa).- The initial court hearing for Emilio Lozoya, the former director of Mexico’s oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the first Mexican to be indicted in the Odebrecht bribery case, marked its two-month point on Monday after going through weeks of silence following an explosive start laden with leaks and video-scandals.

Given this scenario, experts in fighting corruption told EFE of their concern that the matter will remain murky despite the promises of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has called it an emblematic case of the “neoliberal period.”

“We’re waiting to see if there’s the political will to carry this through, that is, if all this – as the critics have said – is just a media show that is basically for electoral ends,” Mara Gomez, the coordinator of the Mexico Evalua justice program, said.

The former Pemex boss from 2012-2016 during the 2012-2018 presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto has shaken the Mexican political scene with his extradition from Spain on July 17 and the start of his first court hearing on July 28.

Lozoya testified before the national Attorney General’s Office against Peña Nieto and former Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray.

He accused them of “ordering” him to accept $10.5 million from the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht for the election campaign and to bribe lawmakers from the opposition National Action Party (PAN) to support the energy reform that opened up that sector to private investment in 2013.

But Lozoya also pointed to the 2006-2012 administration of Felipe Calderon claiming that special privileges were accorded to petrochemical firm Etileno XXI, which is linked to a Mexican company that is a partner of Odebrecht.

Thus, the Mexico Evalua expert said she sees here an opportunity to undertake the first maxi-case, a coordinated effort by police, prosecutors and judges that will handle it as an organized structure instead of as individual – and presumably unrelated – crimes.

To accomplish that, she pointed to recent reforms that allow Lozoya to provide evidence and testimony in exchange for legal, and presumably physical, protection.

“It should all be related, and it’s something that remains to be investigated, with Mexico’s endemic violence and the big violations of human rights, so it’s not a case that we should view in an isolated way. It’s a case that is touching on the center of the political and economic” structure, Gomez said.

Lopez Obrador also has attracted criticism because he has used his morning press conferences to air evidence, insult implicated opposition figures and call on the Attorney General’s Office to release other evidence, according to Eduardo Bohorquez, the director of Transparencia Mexicana.

“He’s politically using the Lozoya case to prepare the ground for the 2021 election (i.e. the mid-term elections), but that doesn’t mean that he’s the authorized spokesman for making the case transparent, that being (the domain) of the General Transparency Law and the Attorney General’s Office,” he said.

Bohorquez acknowledged that it’s necessary “to make the entire process transparent,” as the president has called for, but he demands that it be done with respect for the law and for the autonomy that the AG’s Office must have.

He emphasized the examples of Brazil and Peru, where court hearings in the Odebrecht case were open to the public, something that is not happening in Mexico.

“It’s so important that the case proceed in an open manner because we don’t need interpreters. (Mexican) society is a mature society that must form its own opinion starting with what it sees and going according to the judicial process,” he said.

In his press conferences, the president initially had displayed images of alleged former Pemex officials who delivered money to former PAN collaborators in Congress, something that was halted after a video of Lopez Obrador’s brother became public in which he is receiving campaign “contributions.”

This “dirty case” would complicate rendering judgment on Lozoya, warned Luis Angel Martinez, an anticorruption expert with Ethos: Public Policy Laboratory.

“If Lozoya doesn’t like the sentence it’s almost a fact that he’s going to be shielded because the whole case had an initial lack of due process when the complaint was leaked and videos came out where he was allegedly involved,” Martinez said.

The Ethos expert said that Mexico finds itself facing the possibility of losing “another opportunity” to resolve a key case involving corruption among the top staff of the Peña Nieto government.

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