Mexican Drug War

Mexican Government Reveals $1.1 Billion Stolen by Police Commanders

Former President Enrique Pena Nieto
Former President Enrique Pena Nieto

Mexican Government Reveals $1.1 Billion Stolen by Police Commanders

This hotel in Tamaulipas was a temporary home to Federal Police

This hotel in Tamaulipas was a temporary home to Federal Police, posted to conduct operations against organized crime.

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In 4 years, 24 billion pesos disappeared from Federal Police coffers

Senior officers embezzled funds intended to pay bonuses, operational costs: ‘There was always swindling’

More than 24 billion pesos was embezzled from Federal Police (PF) coffers in four years during the previous government’s six-year term, according to federal authorities.

The Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF) detected anomalies in the use of PF funds between 2013 and 2017 that amount to 24.26 billion pesos (US $1.1 billion at today’s exchange rate).

According to a report by the newspaper Reforma, former PF commanders diverted money that should have been used to pay for officers’ travel expenses and bonuses among other operational costs.

Just over 8.1 billion pesos earmarked for spending on officers’ accommodation and meals while they were deployed on operations in different parts of the country was allegedly embezzled as was more than 6.1 billion pesos allocated for transportation services.

A federal judge issued arrest warrants earlier this month for 19 former PF officials allegedly involved in an embezzlement scheme during the government of ex-president Enrique Peña Nieto.

Two of those sought are Jesús Orta Martínez, a former Mexico City police chief, and Frida Martínez Zamora. Both served as secretaries-general of the Federal Police at the time of the alleged embezzlement. However, the embezzlement of which they are accused only amounts to 2.5 billion pesos or just over 10% of the amount that allegedly disappeared between 2013 and 2017.

Reforma reported that the embezzlement of some of the funds Orta and Martínez allegedly stole occurred via 246 checks issued to the other 17 officials sought by authorities.

According to the ASF, the funds were supposed to have been used to pay for gasoline for police vehicles as well as meals, accommodation, other travel expenses and risk bonuses while PF officers were deployed on operations.

Reforma said that during the previous government, it was told by officers that their superiors personally profited from money that should have been spent on expenses associated with operations that were carried out against organized crime.

Some officers were even kicked out of their hotel accommodation because the Federal Police failed to pay for it, the newspaper said.

The CEO of a hotel chain in Michoacán wrote to a company contracted by the PF to settle travel expenses late in 2017.

Jaime Vega, head of the Vista Hermosa chain, told the firm KolTov that it was eight months in arrears and that 500 officers would be evicted if the payment wasn’t made. Despite the warning, the payment never arrived.

Officers alleged that KolTov received the money to make the payment but that it was split between the company and Federal Police commanders.

According to a report in 2017, there were 201 hotels in 22 states on the brink of collapse because they were owed more than 653 million pesos by the police force for accommodation and food.

Most of the hotels awaiting payment are in the states of México, Guerrero and Michoacán, where police have been sent to combat the violence created by criminal organizations fighting over territory.

“There was always swindling,” one former PF officer who is now a member of the National Guard told Reforma.

He also said that commanders “invented” misdeeds supposedly committed by officers in order to justify not paying them their bonuses. The commanders allegedly pocketed the money themselves.

The ASF has also found irregularities related to more than 83 million pesos allocated to the PF between 2010 and 2017 to purchase 40 police vehicles.

Among other alleged PF corruption, federal investigators discovered that a 2.5 billion-peso, no-bid contract in which the Federal Police purchased technology from the Israeli firm Rafael Advanced Defense Systems was issued at four times market value and only half that amount was actually paid.

The Federal Police, restructured in 2009 by the government of former president Felipe Calderón, was officially disbanded at the end of last year, with many officers moving into the newly created National Guard.

President López Obrador has pledged that the National Guard, officially inaugurated just over a year ago, will help to combat high levels of violence but homicide numbers for the first seven months of 2020 show that Mexico is on track to break the murder record set in 2019 when more than 34,000 people were slain.

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