MEXICO CITY – Three reporters who won a prestigious international Spanish-language journalism award for bringing to light a corruption scandal in Mexico say they are frustrated at the lack of political or legal consequences in the case.
On Sept. 4, 2017, the online news portal Animal Politico and the Mexicans against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) non-governmental organization published a report indicating the Mexican government had used shell companies and fraudulent contracts to divert funds.
One of the public entities implicated in the alleged scheme was the Social Development Secretariat (SEDESOL), which was once headed by Jose Antonio Meade, the presidential candidate of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the July 1 general elections.
A total of 7.67 billion pesos (roughly $426 million) was channeled via universities between 2013-2014 via to 186 companies, but 128 of those firms lacked the infrastructure and legal status for providing the services for which they had been hired, the report said.
Nayeli Roldan, Miriam Castillo and Manuel Ureste won an Ortega y Gasset Journalism Prize for their work and will receive that honor in a ceremony on May 7 in Madrid.
The main state-run entities implicated in the so-called La Estafa Maestra (Master Swindle) case were the Banco Nacional de Obras y Servicios Publicos (Banobras) development bank, the Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) oil company and SEDESOL.
Meade headed that latter department between 2015-2016.
“We can’t point the finger at Meade or any other secretary since they didn’t sign anything,” Roldan – an Animal Politico reporter and one of the authors of the report, now available in book format as “La Estafa Maestra” – told EFE in an interview when asked about the candidate’s potential involvement in the corruption case.
However, “there are internal oversight mechanisms (within the government) that would have made it very difficult for senior officials not to be aware of what was happening,” she added.
Eight Mexican universities served as government intermediaries in hiring the services of shell companies, showing that corruption even taints “the most pristine institutions,” Roldan said.
“I think our work served to bring the case to light, but it’s a bit frustrating that there’s been no backlash or consequence,” said Castillo, an MCCI reporter and also one of the report’s authors.
Ureste, a Spanish reporter for Animal Politico, told EFE he never believed the report would “topple” President Enrique Peńa Nieto’s government because Mexican politicians “protect one another.”
Even so, he said the investigation had made a small contribution that may make politicians think twice before engaging in corrupt activities.