The names of prominent Mexicans who appear linked to offshore financial structures: billionaires and their families, officials and politicians – some from AMLO 4T supporters -, media owners, religious groups, and even criminals.
More than 3,000 leaders have taken their wealth to secret offshore in recent decades. At least 80 politicians and their families appear in the Pandora Papers
The offshore businesses of at least 3,047 Mexicans who moved fortunes to tax havens with the collaboration of banks, advisers, and legal firms, have been exposed with a new massive leak of 11.9 million documents on a global scale Obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
Among the citizens and residents of Mexico who use shell companies, trusts or opaque foundations, there are more than 80 figures from the world of politics who have taken millions of dollars to places that offer tax privileges under the shadow of anonymity, beyond the reach of the tax authorities and regulatory agencies.
The Pandora Papers investigation discovers that Mexicans have created paper companies to buy luxurious properties, private jets, and yachts, pay less taxes, manage fortunes and inheritances, but also to manage investments, open bank accounts and save the profits of their businesses.
The leak contains company records, stock certificates, financial statements, property titles, emails and legal deeds that reveal the true owners of offshore firms, whose identity is typically kept hidden under the layers of anonymity that havens offer. prosecutors.
The records of the Pandora Papers investigation, in which 600 journalists from 150 media around the world participated, including the Fifth Element Lab, come from 14 global firms specializing in creating paper companies and complex schemes for those seeking secrecy and tax privileges.
Although having an offshore company is not a crime, in many cases its opacity allows the commission of crimes such as money laundering, corruption, or tax evasion. In Mexico, it is not illegal to have front companies to maintain assets or protect assets outside the country, some people even use them to reduce risks to their security.
However, the use of offshore companies can be particularly controversial by politicians, who often use them to manage and hide their true assets and even to hide money and assets from illegal activities.
Before becoming president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador severely criticized in 2016 the appearance of Mexicans in the previous ICIJ investigation, the Panama Papers, pointing out that the “power mafia” was hiding money from the tax authorities.
File photograph showing the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. EFE / Mario Guzmán
“I respect very much the anonymity that is kept in Switzerland on those who deposit or in the so-called tax havens, but that should not exist (…) it should be established that the origin of the money is known, how the money is given from a country looted to a tax haven and nothing happens and it is normal, and there are even countries that make a living from that, that is immoral, “he said in August 2020 during his morning conference.
Some politicians close to López Obrador appear in the Pandora Papers. The documents also include the sons and brothers of former governors of the PRI and PAN, current members of state cabinets and people from the Green Party.
Public servants are obliged to report their properties, companies, investments, and bank accounts established within and outside the country. They must do it every year or when they assume or leave a new position. These patrimonial declarations can be public or reserved, according to the decision of each person. The officials and legislators who appear in Pandora Papers and who made their wealth declarations public, failed to record their participation in companies settled in tax havens.
If politicians did not voluntarily report their offshore companies, the federal government does not have other fiscal surveillance mechanisms to know precisely who participates in companies in tax havens and for what purpose.
“In the institutional systems there is no section that allows identifying taxpayers who use offshore entities,” the SAT responded to a request for information.
The new leak contains 10 times more Mexicans than those discovered in the previous Panama Papers investigation in 2016, and while on that occasion only the clients of a single firm, Mossack Fonseca, were documented, this leak reveals information from Mexican clients or residents. in Mexico of at least 10 law firms that helped them take their money out of the country.
A review of many months carried out by journalists from Quinto Element Lab, El País, Proceso, and Univisión to Pandora Papers revealed that more than 3,000 Mexicans or residents of Mexico participate in 1,241 corporations, 600 trusts, and 72 foundations that are difficult to trace located in 22 jurisdictions around the world.
In addition to politicians and officials, the leaked documents uncover the financial secrets of businessmen and some of the wealthiest families in the country.
Twenty of the 80 politicians and family members that appear in the Pandora Papers moved around $ 30 million to jurisdictions that offer tax privileges in the last decades.
The leak contains reports with very detailed documents that describe the financial secrets of some protagonists, but not all the reports offer detailed data of the invested assets.
Friends of AMLO 4T
Julio Scherer Ibarra, who since 2018 and until a few weeks ago was the legal adviser to the Presidency and one of the men closest to López Obrador, appears linked to an offshore structure and an apartment in Miami Beach. In March 2011, it received the 50 thousand shares of a British Virgin Islands paper company called 3202 Turn Ltd, which controlled a Florida company called 3202 Turn LLC, which in turn owns a condominium located on Collins Avenue from Miami, currently valued at $ 1.5 million.
From at least 2013 to 2016, Scherer’s name appeared on the department’s property pay stubs according to Miami-Dade County tax records. In 2019 he did not show any name on the ballots and in 2020 the Morgan Stanley bank appeared as the head of the department, which does not appear in any of the four public wealth declarations that Scherer presented while he was an official.
According to internal documents from the Trident Trust firm, which managed the Virgin Islands company, Scherer received the shares of the company from Ilja Landsmanas Dymensztejn and his wife Ivonne Yolanda Stern Wolf, who were among its main clients. The Landsmanas remained as “directors” of the company until March 17, 2017, when they resigned from their position.
The Pandora Papers discover that until that year the assets of the offshore company amounted to two million dollars from Scherer’s work in legal practice, according to the confidential statement of the lawyer that was sent to the Trident office.
Before joining López Obrador’s cabinet, Scherer was a legal advisor to the conglomerate of companies run by the Landsmanas’ children and owned by the family. La Cosmopolitan is the best known of its companies, integrated under the Corporativo Kosmos seal. In recent years, they have emerged as the government’s largest food providers; They supply federal and state prisons, public hospitals, Pemex, and the country’s police.
The shares in the offshore firm and the department in Florida, acquired in 2008 by Elías Landsmanas, are information that “alludes to me in a period of my career in which I was not a public official but an independent professional. In this sense, it is essential for me to clarify that I have always conducted myself in accordance with the law, with my personal principles, and I will continue to do so ”, replied Scherer to a questionnaire sent within the framework of this investigation.
The Scherer y Asociados law firm served a variety of businesses and politicians at the time. He advised the Landsmanas for five years, before joining the government of the Fourth Transformation, where he was in charge of reviewing the president’s reforms and bills.
Armando Guadiana Tijerina, the mining entrepreneur and since 2018 senator for Morena, created in March 2007 The Hawaii Trust, a trust that protects 50 thousand shares of Atlantic Industries International Limited, an opaque company based in the British Virgin Islands, according to the records of the Panamanian law firm Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal), whom he appointed as managers of his assets.
At the time of registering his offshore, Guadiana said that his annual income was around 600 thousand dollars and that his assets exceeded 28 million dollars distributed in mining companies, investments and properties. He designated his four children as beneficiaries, according to the firm’s records.
In the public wealth declarations that he already presented as a senator, that fortune was gone. In 2020 and 2021, Guadiana left blank the fields where he would have to detail his income from business, financial or professional services, disposal of assets or any other income apart from his salary as a legislator. You entered “none” where you should report your investments, accounts and other types of securities or assets, your real estate and trusts.
-Where does this declared patrimony come from when you created your trust? he was asked in an interview prior to publication.
-I don’t know, mind you, because the amount I do not know. I would tell you a lie.
And as for what was declared in his patrimonial he answered. “There was an error, the accountants misunderstood the question in the equity declaration, they understood that if I did not have a conflict of interest,” said Guadiana, “I was stunned in the matter of the Declaranet.”
The senator clarified that his accountants made a mistake when filling out the form of his patrimonial declaration, which he assures was corrected last March, although his data has not been updated in the public versions.
In an interview, the legislator explained that the Hawaii Trust was created to develop a coal mining project in the province of Santander, Colombia, which did not prosper due to the insecurity of the guerrillas. “We still have the project, in fact nothing else has cost us money, we have not done anything,” Guadiana said in the telephone interview.
He planned to develop the project with Colombian investment partners, although he does not remember their names “they wanted things offshore” and that is why “the entity (Hawaii Trust) was created but it was not invested, no assets were contributed, I think it was extinguished.” Asked about the company in the Virgin Islands, he replied: “I don’t know, I don’t have the exact data but I’m going to check it with the accountants (…) I’m not sure if the aforementioned Atlantic is alive,” said the legislator.
The current Secretary of Communications and Transportation, Jorge Arganis Díaz Leal, also appears as the owner of the company Desbond Finance Limited based in the British Virgin Islands, which was created in 1998 with the purpose of protecting its heritage.
The company was registered in February 1998, just one month after Arganis joined the Secretariat of Works and Services of the government of Mexico City as general director of the asphalt plant. From that year until May 2003, when he was already serving as director of Public Works in the López Obrador government in Mexico City, Arganis had a general power of attorney over the company.
In a letter sent for this report, the secretary assured that the resources were “the product of professional practice in the private sector.” He did not specify the amount he invested through his offshore and also assured that the firm defrauded him and that he lost his money.
The businesswoman Julia Elena Abdala Lemus, who is a sentimental partner of the head of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), Manuel Bartlett, owns 10,000 shares of a Panamanian paper company, which has no employees or offices, and whose first shareholder remained anonymous as guaranteed by bearer shares.
The company Roybell International Inc was created in December 2011 with a capital of 10 thousand dollars through an office in Geneva specialized in the management of large fortunes, which in turn hired the services of Alcogal.
The company is run by three nominee executives, but the one who really takes the reins is Abdala: in December 2017 he received powers to carry out actions such as buying goods, requesting credits, granting loans, entering into contracts, participating in tenders, buying shares and filing lawsuits. He was also authorized to open an account at the Lyford International Bank and Trust Ltd branch in The Bahamas, according to the Pandora Papers.
Abdala, who was not available to respond to requests for comment, became a shareholder in the offshore company when Bartlett, his 20-year-old partner, was serving as a senator. A journalistic investigation published in 2019 by Carlos Loret de Mola’s team documented that the Bartlett family had an undeclared fortune valued at 800 million pesos in properties, some in the name of Abdala. The Ministry of Public Function exonerated the head of the CFE and closed the case when it found no crimes.
The families of the PRI and the PAN
When international law firms help set up offshore companies in tax havens, they must note whether their client is a “politically exposed” person, either because he is related to an official or because he holds a public position. Those who fall into this category should receive special attention to verify the origin of their resources and the safeguarding of assets.
Arturo Montiel Yañez registered a trust in the Virgin Islands six days before his father, Arturo Montiel Rojas, ended his term as governor of the State of Mexico in September 2005, according to the revelations.
At the age of 33, the businessman and first-born of the former governor signed a contract with Alcogal and Stanford Trust to assign them the management of 3.5 million dollars for the benefit of his children Arturo and Santiago Montiel Ferreyra, according to the document signed on September 8, 2005 that gave rise to the Art Saint Trust.
The documents do not mention the origin of the funds, but the millionaire operation took place when the former governor and his family were being investigated for embezzlement, illicit enrichment and diversion of public funds, although the state prosecutor’s office concluded that there were no elements against the Montiel. Efforts to obtain Montiel Yáñez’s version were unsuccessful.
Jesús Murillo Ortega is the son of the former PRI governor of Hidalgo and former attorney Jesús Murillo Karam. With a million dollars, the businessman created in March 2014 together with his wife the Sweet Land Ltd company in Panama to invest in real estate, according to the leaked documents. Murillo Ortega declared that the resources were derived from his personal savings.
The offshore was registered when Murillo Karam was in charge of the Attorney General’s Office. During those years, companies in Mexico of Murillo Karam’s children and relatives earned more than $ 300 million in assigned works contracts while he was in charge of the PGR, according to an investigation by MCCI.
“This corporation (Sweet Land Ltd) at no time carried out any operation, business, commercial, management, financial or acquisition activity, and it did not even open a bank account and was even dissolved practically from its inception, derived from the termination of my marital bond with my then-partner and partners ”, responded Murillo Ortega to a questionnaire sent for this investigation.
Francisco Labastida Gómez de la Torre, son of the former governor of Sinaloa Francisco Labastida Ochoa, became director and majority shareholder of Fuentes Pyasa Corp in the summer of 2008, a limited company created in the British Virgin Islands for the purpose of acquiring a yacht. according to the firm’s registration documents.
The company was created in 2006 through Trident Trust Company by a real estate broker, but two years later new shareholders and directors were appointed: along with Francisco Labastida came Leonor Labastida Vargas as well as Andrés Conesa Labastida, director of Aeroméxico, and other agricultural entrepreneurs from Sinaloa.
The Labastida yacht is a 2006 Azimut M / Y, of Italian design baptized as “Fat Fish”, according to a document signed in 2010 by the son of the former presidential candidate.
“I am a shareholder of a commercial company (…) owner of the vessel called ‘Pez Gordo’ since 2006 and as part of the investment made I have the right to make use of 5 weeks a year,” Labastida said in a letter.
For Luis Pérez de Acha, a lawyer specializing in tax matters, the purchase of yachts or properties through offshore entities has two purposes: to hide the identity of the owner and obtain tax advantages. “Having a yacht with the flag of another country brings some fiscal and financial benefits, that is why it is used, basically for the payment of lower taxes,” he said.
The brothers Marcelo and Carlos de los Santos, sons of the former PAN Governor of San Luis Potosí, Jesús Marcelo de los Santos Fraga, own 1,282 shares in Global Securities Management Corp, an offshore company created in July 2005 in the British Virgin Islands. In which well-known personalities from Colombian politics participate as shareholders, such as the Minister of Transportation Ángela María Orozco, and the husband and daughter of the Vice President of Colombia, Martha Lucía Ramírez.
Other partners of the firm are the brothers and Colombian businessmen César and Gustavo Hernández Frieri, the latter captured in Italy in 2018 and sentenced in the United States for money laundering and embezzlement of $ 600 million from the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA between 2014 and 2018 By profession accountants and businessmen, the children of the former PAN president did not respond to the interview requests sent by this organization.
Family members of politicians featured in the Pandora Papers include the wife of the current governor of the State of Mexico, Fernanda Castillo Cuevas, and Paulina Díaz Ordaz, granddaughter of former president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz and wife of the Green Party politician Jesús Sesma Suárez.
Documents from the Trident Trust law firm reveal that Juan Ignacio García Zalvidea, former federal deputy and former mayor of Cancun for the Green Party, became a shareholder in three companies in the British Virgin Islands in 2015, which in 2014 owned four vessels. The three companies were created years ago by his brother Fernando García Zalvidea, a well-known hotel businessman who, after his death in November 2013, inherited part of his fortune to his brothers.
In 2005 Juan Ignacio García Zalvidea, who was not available for an interview, was arrested on charges of negligence and embezzlement to the detriment of the Benito Juárez city council. That same year, the Quintana Roo Congress disqualified him for a period of 20 years for the improper handling of state funds and resources during his tenure as mayor, and a year later he was released after posting a bond.
The Pandora Papers also include the secretary of the government of Coahuila, the head of the governor’s office Cuahtémoc Blanco, the brother of a former governor of Yucatán and the former PRI governor of Coahuila, Enrique Martínez y Martínez.
In 2016, the Panama Papers investigation uncovered the secret finances of 311 Mexicans, a figure 10 times less than that documented today in the Pandora Papers. Five years ago, the investigation of tax havens rocked the world, causing the fall of prime ministers and the creation of new laws in dozens of countries.
In Mexico little changed and since then the tax authorities have failed to monitor the tax obligations of all those who benefit from the offshore system to get money out of the country, which each year loses more than 9 billion dollars in taxes due to the abuse of offshore jurisdictions, according to the European Tax Justice Project.
On paper, Mexican taxpayers must declare the income and profits obtained in tax havens, but the SAT does not have a registry of the companies, trusts or offshore foundations in which Mexicans participate, nor does it know the amount of their income or of the paid taxes.
In order to verify that citizens are up to date with the payment of taxes, the tax authorities can order audits, but the SAT barely audited 5 people who make use of tax havens so far this year, according to the responsible area to perform the audits.
The surveillance of shell entities is important because they are companies created to hide the real assets of their clients and because, as revealed by the ICIJ international investigation, they are often associated with crimes of tax evasion and fraud, money laundering, corporate corruption, and politics.
While the government has done this recently, over the years it is known that more Mexicans and power actors benefit from the offshore industry in a country with growing inequality.
“The damage is wide and deep, but obviously the hardest hit are the most vulnerable who depend on a functional state and a government that offers at least minimal protection,” says Chuck Collins, director of the inequality program at the Institute for Policy. Studies. “This not only means that the State does not have money, but it is a kind of corruption of the entire system that occurs when the powerful choose not to participate.”
Here is the list of some characters involved:
- Julio Scherer Ibarra, former legal adviser to the Presidency
- Armando Guadiana Tijerina, senator for Coahuila and mining businessman
- Jorge Arganis Díaz Leal, Secretary of Communications and Transportation
- José Manuel Sanz Rivera, head of the governor’s office of Morelos
- Fernando Donato de las Fuentes Hernández, Secretary of Government of Coahuila
- Juan Ignacio García Zalvidea, former deputy and former mayor in Cancun
- Juan Carlos Márquez Heine, Secretary of Health of Oaxaca
- Julia Abdala Lemus, businesswoman, partner of Manuel Bartlett
- Arturo Montiel Yáñez, businessman, son of the former governor of the State of Mexico
- Paulina Díaz Ordaz, publirelationist, wife of a deputy and granddaughter of former president
- Jesús Murillo Ortega, businessman, son of the former governor of Hidalgo
- Francisco Antonio José Patrón Laviada, businessman, brother of the former governor of Yucatán
- Francisco Labastida Gómez, businessman, son of the former governor of Sinaloa
- Fernanda Castillo Cuevas, wife of the Governor of the State of Mexico
- Marcelo and Carlos de los Santos, businessmen, sons of the former governor of San Luis Potosí
- Germán Larrea, President of Grupo México
- María Asunción Aramburuzabala, businesswoman and investor
- Fernando Chico Pardo, from Asur
- Alberto Baillères González, from Grupo Bal
- Carlos Peralta Quintero, of Grupo IUSA
- Salinas Family (businessmen)
- Leopoldo Espinosa Abdala, RIMSA Pharmaceutical
- Jorge Humberto Santos Reyna and Samira Barragán Juárez, Arca Continental
- Alejandro González Zabalegui, businessman
- Alejandro Aboumrad González, director of IDEAL
- Antonio Madero Bracho, Rassini
- Armando Hinojosa Cantú, Higa Group
- Ricardo Pierdant Grunstein, businessman
- Edgar Manuel Méndez Montoya, financial operator of the former governor of Quintana Roo, Roberto Borge