Ex-oil company director returning to face charges in Mexico

Toluca de Lerdo, Mexico Photo by Ricardo Esquivel from Pexels

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A plane carrying the former head of Mexico’s state-run oil company took off from Spain and was expected to land late Thursday in Mexico, where the former executive faces charges equivalent to money laundering, bribery and conspiracy.
Prosecutors claim Emilio Lozoya took corruption to such lengths during his tenure as head of the state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos that he diverted bribe money intended for the former ruling party to buy a $1.9 million house for his family.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made rooting out corruption his main cause, and has said that Lozoya has offered to turn testify about bribery and corrupt contracts.
“He agreed voluntarily and made a commitment to talk about what happened in these alleged frauds he is accused of, and I think he will talk about Odebrecht and other types of crimes,” López Obrador said Thursday.

That was a reference to millions of dollars in bribes he allegedly received from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Prosecutors also say Lozoya was involved in the 2015 purchase of a fertilizer plant by the oil company known as Pemex from a Mexican company at an inflated price.
Prosecutors’ allegations against Emilio Lozoya were released Monday after Spain approved his extradition. Spanish police arrested Lozoya in the southern city of Malaga in February. Lozoya has denied wrongdoing.
Many in Mexico had expected Lozoya might implicate others in the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, perhaps including former president Enrique Peña Nieto, who governed Mexico from 2012 to 2018.
There had been speculation that Lozoya, who helped run Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign, used bribe money to get his boss elected.
But according to the court papers released Monday, Lozoya asked Oderbrecht for $4 million for the PRI campaign in 2012 — and then spent half of it on a property in his wife’s name.
“In exchange for his help … in March 2012, the defendant asked for a payment to help support the PRI political campaign,” according to Spain’s Audiencia Nacional. Between April, June and November — the elections were in July — the company deposited $4 million into accounts controlled by Lozoya’s family, but “part of this money was used on August 23, 2013, by his wife Marielle Helen Eckers to buy a property for $1.9 million in the state of Guerrero in Mexico.”

That appears to be a reference to a property in the Pacific coast resort of Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo that was briefly seized by Mexican authorities.
The year 2013 appears to have been lucrative for Lozoya. The court documents say Oderbrecht allegedly offered him $6 million in bribes to get a contract for renovating an old oil refinery. The Brazilian firm allegedly wound up paying him $5 million.
A Mexican firm, which later sold an overpriced old fertilizer plant to Pemex when Lozoya was director, allegedly paid him $3.4 million in 2012. Lozoya allegedly used $2.58 million of the money to buy a property in an upscale Mexico City neighborhood.

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Lozoya, who directed Pemex from 2012 to 2016 during the Peña Nieto administration, has always denied wrongdoing, but fled Mexico and led authorities on a monthslong overseas manhunt. Spanish police arrested Lozoya in the southern city of Malaga in February.
In another major case, authorities in the northern border state of Chihuahua said Thursday they have seized more than 50 properties belonging to former Gov. César Duarte, who was arrested in Florida last week for extradition to Mexico on corruption charges. Many of the properties appear to be rural ranches.

The state government said the properties are worth over $22 million. If the state successfully defends the seizures in court and sells the properties, it plans to spend the money on health, education and public safety projects.
In 2018, Chihuahua state officials opened a new investigation into Duarte and dozens of officials from his administration. The probe centered on the possible diversion of the equivalent of about $320 million in government funds in 2016, when Duarte was governor.