Monday, August 2

Corruption at Pemex: Romero Deschamps, the almighty Mexican oil unionist, slips from justice

Carlos Romero Deschamps, during a session in the Senate in 2013.
Carlos Romero Deschamps, during a session in the Senate in 2013.Rodolfo Angulo / Cuartoscuro

The once powerful oil leader Carlos Romero Deschamps appears to be slipping from justice. Since Andrés Manuel López Obrador came to power in December 2018, the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) has opened at least 12 inquiries against the 77-year-old union member, without having managed to bring any of the cases before the judge . Nine of them have already been archived and only three are still under investigation, according to information provided by the FGR via transparency. Although one of the investigations – the one that presents the greatest progress – indicates a series of deposits, transfers and purchases of properties abroad that have no justification and point to money laundering schemes, so far it has not been possible to specify no arrest warrant, as confirmed by judicial sources.

Most of the investigations stem from accusations by a dozen dissident groups against the management of Romero Deschamps in the Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) union and two others originated after the complaints made by the Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF), which he directs Santiago Nieto. The three investigation folders that the FGR keeps in process are in charge of the Special Prosecutor’s Office in Combating Corruption and the crimes under investigation point to fraud, illicit enrichment and money laundering. In the files that have already been dismissed, it was investigated illicit remuneration, embezzlement, influence peddling, non-existent operations, operations damaging to the assets of third parties, usurpation of functions and illicit exercise of public service.

The investigations that have made the most progress are those that began after the complaints from the UIF, where a scheme of triangulation of resources is revealed that includes front companies and international transfers by the oil leader in collusion with his wife, sister, children , nephews and other members of his in-laws. One of them indicates that the union member had deposits for 111 million pesos and withdrawals for 81 million between June 2011 and March 2017, according to the reports that Financial Intelligence had access to. These movements contrast with the income he obtained in recent years as a PRI legislator and Pemex employee: around 1.5 million pesos a year. Asked for this report, Romero Deschamps, through a person close to him, declined to respond to the comments “until his legal situation is resolved, respecting due process.”

Alejandro Romero Durán, one of the unionist’s sons, presented deposits of 108 million pesos in his bank accounts between 2012 and 2017. In addition, in August 2018 he received a loan of five million from Section 34 of the oil union, despite the fact that you are not registered as an employee. In the accounts of Romero Durán, who claims to be an entrepreneur and pilot, resources were identified from the Aeromonky company, which declared income of 144 million pesos between 2013 and 2017, but which could be a company that simulates its operations, according to the documentation accessed. The son of the PRI politician is also a shareholder of Aeromonky Service Center and Odis Asversa. These firms with “zero profitability” are under the watchful eye of the authorities because they share characteristics that point to front businesses.

José Carlos Romero Durán, another of the sons, also registered deposits and withdrawals in his accounts that were suspicious to the authorities. In the investigation, he is identified as a shareholder of two companies, which have presented their tax returns in zero, despite having received juicy transfers. The movements of Paulina Romero Durán, the unionist’s third daughter, are also in the sights of the authorities. Only one of its cards found consumptions for more than 31 million pesos between 2017 and 2018 that cannot be justified with its reported income. Among her expenses, she records carpet purchases in Turkey for more than 2.5 million pesos and marine insurance payments, possibly for a yacht she owns. This newspaper tried to find the version of Romero Deschamps and his sons for this report, without obtaining it. A person from the immediate environment assured: “Until his legal situation is resolved, he may be able to establish a position, respecting due process.”

Romero Deschamps is one of the most relevant figures in recent Mexican political and union history. For years the Mexican media exhibited his ostentatious life: trips, yachts, fine watches and luxury cars, while out of the spotlight he managed to agree with the president in turn. For more than two decades, he led the reins of the Oil Workers Union of the Mexican Republic (STPRM), one of the most money-receiving in Latin America, in total opacity. In the governments of Vicente Fox (2000-2006), Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), the investigations against them for bribery, illicit enrichment and money laundering never advanced. The last two investigations that managed to reach the hands of a judge were shelved in the previous administration because the Prosecutor’s Office did not present enough evidence and the file was forgotten.

The opposition groups to Romero Deschamps that for decades have been in charge of denouncing his outrages saw in the arrival of López Obrador a halo of hope so that their claims would be investigated and justice would finally be done. With the arrival of the new president to the presidency, several of them filed new complaints, which after two years remain stagnant. Various dissidents interviewed for this report agree that the investigations are delayed and call on the Prosecutor’s Office to issue arrest warrants against the PRI politician.

The authorities are investigating the route of the money in the accounts of other relatives, as some appear as administrators of companies that have acquired expensive properties in Miami. One of the sons made international transfers for more than a million dollars to a company and this in turn returned the resources to an account linked to the union leader’s wife. The FIU investigations also point to a foreign company domiciled in the Cayman Islands and with accounts in the United States, which has received money from exchange houses and individuals. Once the income is received, they are sent to investment accounts and from there they are dispersed to the accounts of one of the children and from there to those of Romero Deschamps.

The financial intelligence body discovered that the oil union received transfers through the interbank electronic payment system of the Integral Management Company of Personal and Real Estate of Section 29 that totaled 117 million pesos. This company, located in a town in Tabasco, had accumulated income of 717 million pesos, of which it was able to deduct 583 million and paid taxes for 66 million. The authorities are suspicious that he simulates his income, since his alleged suppliers could not be located and no record of the payment of wages was found. In addition, no financial information was found on her and before the SAT she recorded school transportation as an activity, a different line from the one reported in her income and deductions.

Through these interbank electronic shipments, the authorities detected that there was a triangulation of resources that passed through various accounts of the union. Withdrawals were found from one of the main accounts of the oil group to others of the same union, as well as millionaire transfers to various trusts. Later, the money was sent to hundreds of individuals. The participation of a woman who acted as prestanombre of the oil leader to receive 4.3 million pesos from gas station owners is also being investigated. This person, identified as a housewife, in 2017 acquired a property for 10 million pesos in Polanco.

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