MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexico has made little progress in defusing a bizarre standoff over the possible arrest of a seated governor on charges of tax evasion, money laundering and organized crime
But President Andrés Manuel López Obrador made one thing clear on Thursday: All diplomatic documents the United States sends to Mexico run the risk of being published by the President himself.
Mexico is already facing questions about the clarity of its legal system and doubts whether the US can continue to share information with Mexican officials. But this week’s dispute over border state Governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca threatens to wreak havoc on both fronts.
A disagreement among courts, prosecutors, and state and federal lawmakers makes it unclear whether the Tamaulipas state governor can be arrested or whether he or she will continue to enjoy immunity from prosecution as an elected official.
The federal congress, dominated by the president’s Morena party, has voted to lift its immunity. The opposition-dominated state parliament refused to recognize this and the Supreme Court refused to enter the dispute.
There is a possibility that if Garcia Cabeza de Vaca leaves Tamaulipas he could be arrested. or if federal agents attempt to arrest him in Tamaulipas, they could face resistance from sizeable state police.
López Obrador proposed on Thursday that a fourth unit, the Senate, be involved in the dispute, although its powers in this case are also unclear.
The federal prosecutor said on Wednesday that it had received an arrest warrant and that the governor’s bank accounts had been frozen.
The governor is a prominent figure in Mexico’s hotly contested Conservative opposition, which claims the charges against him are political persecution. López Obrador says it is a classic case of corruption that he has promised to eradicate.
López Obrador is so excited about the governor’s arrest that he produced a copy of a May 4 letter requested by the U.S. Embassy legal attaché for information on Garcia Cabeza de Vaca as part of a U.S. money laundering investigation.
Despite diplomatic protocols that normally consider such letters confidential – and Mexico’s own confidentiality laws that prohibit the naming of suspects unless they are convicted – the president projected a copy of the letter on a big screen at his daily press conference that morning.
Along with the governor, the letter named at least 20 other people and companies, although it is unclear whether they were charged. Technically, in Mexico itself, it is a crime to release files from an ongoing case or investigation.
The president acknowledged that his own legal team had previously prevented him from disclosing such files, but said he had to do so to prevent Mexico from being “ridiculed” by other nations for not doing enough against money laundering .
López Obrador has published sensitive US documents in the past.
In January, he ordered the publication of 751 pages of a file received from the United States against former Mexican Defense Secretary General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, on whom the US Attorney’s Office had been charged with drug trafficking. All pages were marked “Divided per court order, not for further distribution”.
In this case. López Obrador accused the US Drug Enforcement Administration of fabricating the allegations and of showing a lack of professionalism in its investigation.
Under pressure from Mexico’s implicit threats to restrict or deport US agents, US prosecutors dropped her case so that Cienfuegos could be returned to Mexico and investigated under Mexican law. Mexico closed the investigation quickly and without charge.
Although the US gave in to Cienfuegos, a few weeks later the Mexican Congress passed a law restricting US agents in Mexico and lifting their diplomatic immunity.
Experts say these restrictions could jeopardize the security relationship with the United States, which provides much of Mexico’s intelligence on drug trafficking and money laundering cases.
López Obrador was upset because previous corruption cases are being prosecuted, if at all, in the US, where corrupt politicians in Mexico usually keep their money. It also means that US prosecutors can keep seized money, which really annoys López Obrador.
Several former Tamaulipas governors have been charged with corruption. Organized crime groups have long had deep roots in the state and numerous politicians have been implicated in their dealings with them.
Former Governor Tomás Yarrington of the Institutional Revolutionary Party was extradited from Italy to the United States in 2018 on charges of drug trafficking. US officials have also tried to charge the governor, who succeeded Yarrington in 2005, Eugenio Hernández, of money laundering.
Prosecutors allege Garcia Cabeza de Vaca owns a large number of luxury properties that are reportedly inconsistent with income from his government jobs over the past 20 years.
Mexico’s Money Laundering Control Agency, the Financial Intelligence Unit, said in a report to Congress earlier this year that Garcia Cabeza de Vaca has made about $ 2 million in wages and $ 1 million in other income since 2000 , but have acquired properties that are worth many times over. Land owned by the governor or his relatives in Texas was also mentioned.
In a video in March, the governor said, “None of the houses shown in the report are mine,” adding, “I have no ties to organized crime.”
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