Monday, June 10, 2013

88.5 million pesos, a red Ferrari and a Get out of Jail card

Ex-treasurer of Tabasco who may have gorged on public funds audaciously asked U.S. for "political asylum," but was denied

José Manuel Sáiz Pineda was hauled into court Sunday
Guadalajara -
Graft and political corruption are alive and well in Mexico. And far too often, the subject of little or no punishment.

Last month the former governor of Tabasco state, Andrés Granier, was much in the news in this country for his Imelda Marcos style clothes buying habits. Granier's six year term as Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) boss of Tabasco ended in December, and within days the new Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) governor reported that, coincidentally, state coffers were almost empty.

Whether that was the result of outright theft or gross fiscal mismanagement is unclear. Estimates of the losses range from tens or hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars, to as much $1.6 billion. The only certain thing is that an already struggling Tabasco is in much worse financial condition today than it was in 2006, before Andrés Granier & Co. took office.

A Madrid newspaper, El Pais, reported on May 23 that the steamy state at the geographical bottom of the Gulf of Mexico basin is so broke that some public hospitals have canceled surgical procedures and are soliciting public donations to help feed their patients. The paper called Granier the "looter of Tabasco." And that was only the beginning of the story.

Some months ago Granier was secretly taped by a colleague. He admitted that during his tenure in office, he frequently traveled to Los Angeles, Miami, New York and elsewhere to shop in prestigious haberdasheries. Granier boasted that he owned 400 pairs of shoes, 300 suits, a thousand shirts and ties. "Not out of pretentiousness," the governor insisted, but por gusto - for the "sheer delight of being well dressed, to feel good about myself."

The colleague posted the recording on YouTube, where it went viral for days. In a media interview from Miami, where he is now comfortably ensconced ("I have health problems, plus I've been threatened), Granier said his statements were made at a family wedding reception, "when I was very drunk." He dismissed his comments as nothing more than pompous champagne braggadocio - or in this case, probably tequila braggadocio.

Early this morning Granier told the Milenio network that he is returning to Mexico today - and to heck with the consequences. "I can explain the movement of state money from various accounts to others. I'm innocent and I'll prove it," protested the ex-governor.

When asked about his admission that he has at least 25 million pesos ($2 million US) in banks, and owns 13 parcels of real estate in Mexico, Granier replied, "Well, I come from a family of real workers. For generations, fortunately, we've had enough to make our way in life."

About the same time the Granier story was breaking, a huge stash of cash - 88.5 million pesos, or over $7 million USD - turned up in a house with connections to former Tabasco treasurer José Manuel Sáiz Pineda, a Granier appointee and long time confidant. Authorities believe Sáiz hired his personal driver to haul cardboard boxes of cash from state depositories under cover of darkness, handsomely compensating him for his efforts. News services report that in recent weeks Sáiz' driver converted his humble home into a veritable mansion, and built another multi-story residence just 500 meters away. Both are equipped with state of the art security camera systems, and endless household luxuries.

Tabasco authorities allege Sáiz may have embezzled, diverted or appropriated as much as $100-$200 million dollars. His attorneys insist the bundles of Mexican cash were "planted" by political enemies, to frame the former treasurer.

Sáiz loves performance vehicles as much as he loves cash, it seems. During searches carried out by state and federal investigators in late May, four Honda and BMW racing motorcycles were seized from properties linked to him, together with special biker clothing, helmets, gloves and accessories. The loot was valued at 1.28 million pesos - over $102,000.

Then there was the 2006 Ferrari sports car the former Tabasco treasurer recently acquired. The F430 was produced in Italy between 2004 and 2009, but Sáiz managed to located a brand new one with no mileage, and he paid a premium over the original list price for just that reason. It was delivered to him in Mérida, where he owns a home, by an ultra high end Puebla car dealer, which diligently complied with Sáiz' demand that the odometer show exactly -0- kms. when it was dropped off. The vehicle still hasn't been registered or tagged by Sáiz or anyone else, according to the local press, but the dealer confirmed that it was delivered to him. Should anyone doubt the story, a proud Sáiz had his picture taken when the car and its title documents were handed over. He was no doubt pleased with the purr of the F430's 570 under-the-hood horses.

Who can afford a $370K Ferrari? Probably someone who earns considerably more than Sáiz' state salary while he was still on the Tabasco payroll - 1.14 million pesos annually, or about $91,500 USD.

Sáiz was stopped in McAllen, Texas over the weekend, shortly after he drove into the U.S. at the Reynosa, Tamaulipas border crossing (not in the Ferrari, though). Mexico had asked Interpol to issue a "Red Card" alert for his detention, and American officials used that as a basis to deny him entry. Sáiz was so desperate not to return that he petitioned for diplomatic asylum, alleging he was a victim of "political persecution" at the hands of the new PRD governor. The bold request was peremptorily denied by U.S. officials, and the ex-treasurer was sent packing. Mexican federal agents took him into custody after he recrossed the border, and Sáiz was delivered to the Villahermosa Public Ministry Sunday afternoon, where he decided to make no preliminary statement to forensic financial experts.

Last evening the Tabasco state prosecutor announced there was "insufficient evidence" to arrest Sáiz, although the case remains under investigation.

In his first public statement on the state's financial mess last December, the new socialist party governor warned, "a los que robaron a los tabasqueños no les espera el disfrute de rentas, sino la cárcel - Those who stole from the Tabascan people are awaiting jail, not the enjoyment of ill-gotten gains."

But to many Mexicans it will seem that so far, things haven't worked out that way at all.

Mar. 3 - Enrique Peña Nieto to PRI: "There are no untouchable interests"
Dec. 20 - Mérida millionairess convicted on all counts in Nicaragua
Oct. 24 - Organized Crime Strike Force searches Mérida residences of Yucatán narco queen

José Sáiz Pineda recently took delivery of a now out of production Ferrari F430. Worth an estimated 4.6 million pesos - about $370,000 - he insisted the vehicle have -0- kilometers when it was rolled off the auto transporter in Mérida, where Sáiz is a co-owner of several businesses under investigation.

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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