Confusion reigns in the post-campaign. The months following Mexico’s presidential election are turning out to be as conflictive and as revelatory of Mexican politics as the election itself. One of the nasty debates of the post-campaign centers around the testimony of a Mexican-American public relations hustler named José Luis Ponce de Aquino.
The PR man claims to have been approached by campaign functionaries of the victorious (maybe) Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and hired to use his many media contacts and his own media/public relations firm, Frontera Televisión Network LLP, to promote a favorable image of PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto in the United States. For his services, says Ponce de Aquino, he was offered (in writing) the outsized sum of $56 million dollars, but was never paid.
On June 7, he brought a suit against nine PRI functionaries in a San Diego (California) District Court, alleging fraud. A week later the PRI brought a demand before the Mexican Attorney’s office against Ponce, alleging extortion. The weekly news magazine, Proceso, has since confirmed many of Ponce’s allegations—see the July 29 edition. Since bringing the suit, Ponce has told the media, he has received numerous death threats.
Ponce now alleges that the financial process in which he was briefly involved was part of an elaborate and sophisticated process of money laundering meant to support the PRI campaign. The goal of money laundering is, of course, to transform illegal proceeds into legal funds through various forms of financial maneuvering, a process that frequently requires several steps and transactions as the proceeds are gradually cleansed. Ponce claims the PRI campaign “triangulated” resources through financial institutions in Spain, Italy, Israel, and the United States—and perhaps other countries as well—before the funds were deposited in a disguised account in the Mexican bank, Monex. Apparently, from Monex, the funds went surreptitiously to the PRI and were used, among other purposes, to finance a scheme in which shopping money, in the form of debit cards called Monex Recompensas, was dispersed to potential voters to be used in the chain of Soriana supermarkets. (Monex has denied knowledge of any wrongdoing and has offered to make its books available to the appropriate public parties.)
The PRI has since admitted that it distributed 7,851 prepaid cards worth just over $66 million pesos (about $5 million dollars) in the run-up to the election, arguing that the dispersal of cards is much more transparent than the dispersal of cash, and besides, all the parties do it, and besides that, the opposition candidate of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was keeping the issue alive because he is just a sore loser. The handing out of the debit cards, but not the scale (which may very likely have exceeded legal spending limits), was largely above ground, but the question remains: what was the origin of the money? And how dirty was it?
Meanwhile, the leadership of both the PRD and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) have demanded that the federal Attorney General’s office look into and sanction the irregularities of the PRI campaign, especially the charges of money laundering. The presidents of the two parties, Jesus Zambrano of the PRD and Gustavo Madero of the PAN, held a joint press conference last week in which they demanded that the independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) investigate the alleged triangulation of resources that laundered the PRI campaign funds.
The PRD, like Ponce, has suggested that the resources may have originated in the earnings of one or another group of organized crime before passing through international filters. The head of the PAN, however, told the press that the presence of laundered funds did not necessarily imply the presence of organized crime, but that the situation implied a grave violation of campaign law nonetheless. The PAN has called for the freezing of the PRI’s Monex account. The PRD, though not the PAN, has taken things to a higher level and has called for the annulment of the election and the naming of an “interim president.” And that’s where things stand now. They are certain to get more complicated.
For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit nacla.org/blog/mexico-bewildered-contested.