The Panama Papers, the vast cache of leaked emails and documents that exposes the offshore accounting of some of the world’s richest and most powerful, has shed light on the clandestine financial arrangements of some noted Mexican public figures.
Mexican government contractor Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantu is named in the documents, along with Mexico’s fourth richest man, TV Azteca boss Ricardo Salinas Pliego.
The leak of around 11.5 million records relates to Mossack Fonseca – a Panamanian law firm that is reportedly one of the world’s biggest creators of shell, or fake companies.
The documents were provided by an anonymous source. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a Washington-based anti-corruption group spent a year sorting through the data, in collaboration with around 100 other international news organizations including Proceso and Aristegui Noticias from Mexico.
Proceso reports the documents show Hinojosa began transferring around US$100 million offshore in March of 2015, a week after Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto ordered an investigation into his finances. Peña Nieto bowed to public pressure in 2014 and ordered the investigation after it was discovered that he and his wife Angelica Rivera own a mansion provided by one of Hinojosa’s companies.
A potential “conflict of interest” was detected, given that Hinojosa had won multimillion-dollar contracts from the State of Mexico when Peña Nieto was its governor.
While Peña Nieto’s investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by the president or his wife, Hinojosa gradually shuffled his fortune abroad through a series of shell companies set up in the name of family members.
The story thrusts the mysterious Hinojosa back into the spotlight and further taints Peña Nieto’s image as a man with links to corrupt businessmen.
Yet government spokesperson Paulo Careño King said the “story was a little old,” as the president and his wife had already been exonerated.
Ricardo Salinas, the founder and chairman of Mexico’s second most popular broadcaster TV Azteca also appeared in the leak. According to the investigation, Salinas used offshore companies to buy works of art, among other things. A spokesperson for Salinas said he had always acted “in strict accordance with the law.”
Fugitive drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero was also named in the leak. After his arrest in Costa Rica in 1985 for the torture and murder of a US drug agent, Caro Quintero’s wealth was confiscated – including a property that belonged to an offshore company set up by Mossack Fonseca. In 2005, the Costa Rican government asked Mossack Fonseca to help them obtain undisputed title to the property.
Yet Mossack Fonseca refused to help, apparently because the firm was afraid of Caro Quintero.
“Compared to Quintero even Pablo Escobar was a baby,” Jürgen Mossack, one of the firm’s co-founders wrote in an email, “I don’t want to be among those Quintero visits after jail.”
Many of Mexico’s opposition party politicians have called on the Tax Administration Service (SAT) to punish those named.
“It is looting,” said Rocio Nahle of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena). “It is not enough to say ‘We will investigate’ and do nothing, you have to go after the money on behalf of Mexican taxpayers.”
The SAT has announced that it is open to allowing funds to return to Mexico, even if that meant the origins of the money were not investigated. However, the tax authority said that it would review the data to determine whether there was evidence of criminal activity.