A new international investigation into the creation of offshore companies and the management of fortunes in tax havens in Mexico has once again splashed politicians, among them Julio Scherer, former Legal Advisor to the President; Jorge Arganis Díaz Leal, Secretary of Communications and Transportation and Armando Guadiana, a senator from the Morenista party.
In the case called “Pandora Papers“, which arose after the massive leak of almost 12 million documents on a global scale and in which media such as El País, Proceso, Quinto Elemento Lab and Univisión participated, Julia Abdala, partner of Manuel Bartlett, director of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), is also included.
Businessmen Germán Larrea and María Asunción Aramburuzabala also appear in the list of people who moved resources to tax havens.
The investigation shows how some three thousand Mexicans have created paper companies to buy, in some cases private jets and yachts, but also to manage investments, open bank accounts and keep the profits of their businesses.
Although having an “offshore” company is not a crime, in many cases its opacity allows the commission of crimes such as money laundering, corruption or tax evasion.
Privileged in Miami
In the case of Julio Scherer, former legal advisor to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in 2017 he was the sole owner of a company based in the British Virgin Islands, according to the investigation.
The company 3202 Turn Ltd had assets of two million dollars from his work as a lawyer. He allegedly received the shares of the company in 2011 from a family of Mexican businessmen who were among his main clients.
According to the documents to which the investigation had access, that “offshore” company owns 100 percent of the shares of a limited liability company in Florida, a type of financial structure known as LLC.
Under the same name as the company located in the Virgin Islands, there is one registered in Miami, which is called 3202 Turn LLC.
This company is owner of a luxury ocean view apartment in Miami. This property was purchased in 2006 for $1.2 million dollars and, according to the official Miami Dade County registry, housing taxes were paid by Scherer between 2013 and 2016.
The company in the Virgin Islands became inactive in 2019, a year after Scherer joined the Mexican government, but the Florida company continues to own the apartment.
According to the investigation, Scherer declined to answer questions about the companies and the apartment, and justified that the investigation alludes to a period in his career when “he was not a public official but an independent professional”.
“It is essential to clarify that I have always conducted myself in accordance with the law, with my personal principles and I will continue to do so”, Scherer said when answering the questions.
Jorge Arganis Díaz Leal, Secretary of Communications and Transportation appears as owner of Desbond Finance Limited, a company created in February 1998 in the British Virgin Islands.
According to the investigation, between 1998 and 2003, the official had general power of attorney. The company was formed with the intermediation of the Panamanian firm Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal) and the Stanford Financial Group, of the multimillionaire Allen Stanford, who in 2012 was sentenced to 110 years in prison in the United States for a millionaire fraud.
Arganis, who replaced Javier Jiménez Espriú at the SCT, acknowledged to investigators his participation in the company, but asserted that it was created as part of the financial strategy that Stanford recommended to his clients.
“I should clarify that my resources were the product of my professional practice in the private sector”, he assured the authors of the investigation.
In addition, the Secretary indicated that he has not yet recovered his investment, but did not clarify if he is still linked to the firm or if he reported those assets in his patrimonial declaration.
Blame the accountant
Morenista senator Armando Guadiana also appears along with his family as a client of Stanford, according to “Pandora Papers”.
In March 2007, Guadiana created The Hawaii Trust, a trust that safeguards 50,000 shares of Atlantic Industries International Limited, an opaque company based in the British Virgin Islands.
The structure was created through the agent Alcogal with an initial deposit of 250 thousand dollars and the senator appears as the sole beneficiary until his death, at which time his four children become equal beneficiaries.
Guadiana acknowledged in an interview with the investigators the creation of the structure for a mining project in Colombia, but asserted that he did not invest in it.
In the public patrimonial declarations that he presented as senator that investment does not appear, according to the investigation.
–Where did that declared patrimony come from when he created his trust, he was asked in an interview prior to the publication of “Pandora Papers.”
–I don’t know, mind you, because I don’t know the amount. I would be lying to you, he responded.
Regarding what was reported in his patrimonial declaration, he indicated that “there was a mistake, the accountants misunderstood me the question in the patrimonial declaration, they understood that if I had no conflict of interest”.
Julia Elena Abdala Lemus, sentimental partner of the head of the CFE, Manuel Bartlett, owns 10,000 shares of Roybell International Inc, a Panamanian paper company that does not have employees or offices, and whose first shareholder remained anonymous as guaranteed by bearer shares.
Abdala Lemus, who did not respond to investigators’ requests for comment, became a shareholder of the offshore when Barlett, his partner of 20 years, was in office as a PT senator.
The company was created in December 2011 with an initial capital of $10,000, and in 2017, Abdala Lemus took full control of the company.
A journalistic investigation by Carlos Loret de Mola’s portal revealed in 2019 that Bartlett had omitted to register in his patrimonial and interests declaration the existence of 25 real estate properties with an approximate value of 800 million pesos and 12 companies that are in the name of Abdala Lemus and his children.
However, the Ministry of Public Function exonerated the head of the CFE and closed the case as it found no crimes.
Translation done by: Karla Giselle Bonales Ramírez