Thursday 7 February 2013

Was armoured car deal for former Tabasco governor a kickback scheme?

The 2009 Tabasco flood: good for  business

In 2010 the state government of Tabasco, Mexico, entered into an agreement to spend more than 17.3 million pesos (US$1.36 million) annually leasing 19 armoured vehicles, among them 18 Humvees, for then governor Andrés Rafael Granier Melo and his top aides.

The information has come out thanks to the Institute of Transparency and Access to Public Information (Instituto de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública), part of the Ministry of Administration and Finance (Secretaría de Administración y Finanzas).

Oddly, even though the government had a “lease-to-own” buy-out clause at the end of the first year for 200,000 pesos (US$15,700)  per Humvee, they choose to continue to lease the vehicles until the end of 2012 at a cost of over 16 million pesos (US$1.3 million) a year.

This is very strange given that they could have bought all 18 vehicles outright for only $3.6 million pesos (US$283,000).

The contract was signed by the then-secretary of the  Ministry of Administration and Finance (Secretaría de Administración y Finanzas), Carlos Alberto Vega Celorio, the man who also authorized wasteful spending at the government residence,  Quinta Grijalva.

Was the car leasing deal a kickback scheme? There is no sure proof yet: extreme inefficiency and incompetence is neither illegal nor uncommon in Mexico. However, the leasing business “Automóviles Monterrey. S.A de C.V.” is allegedly run by a businessman named Antonio Espinosa de los Monteros, who has been implicated with allies of the governor in a scandal related to the indemnification of land to be used for housing flood victims in 2007.

Specifically, 246 million pesos (US$19.4 million) – the lion’s share of the total relief of 350 million pesos (US$27.5 million) – were ordered transferred to Tabasco’s state government by then president Felipe Calderón for the specific purpose of land acquisition and housing construction. Espinosa de los Monteros, through his company Suministros del Carmen, S.A., proceeded to purchase 169 hectares of land that had been spared by the flood. He then sold it back within a month to the Housing Institute of Tabasco (Instituto de Vivienda de Tabasco, or Invitab) for the entire and exact amount of 246 million pesos, for a nice profit of 136 million pesos, or 55%.

The officials involved in the transaction represented a “who’s who” of the Granier administration: José Manuel Sáinz Pineda (director of Administration and Finance); Héctor López Peralta (director of Public Works); and Ariel Cetina Bertruy (director of Invitab). Also implicated were the businessman Amílcar Salas Villanueva, a friend of the ex-governor Andrés Granier and a presumed business associated of Espinosa de los Monteros.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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