Investigators are trying to determine whether a crime was committed when two officials moved 25 million pesos ($1.9 million) in a plane belonging to the Veracruz state government, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office said.
The two officials of the Veracruz state government, which is in the hands of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, were arrested last Friday at the international airport in Toluca, the capital of Mexico state, the AG’s office said.
Federal Police officers found “a suitcase and a backpack containing 25 million pesos” during an inspection and arrested a Veracruz Finance Secretariat official, the AG’s office said.
A second state official was arrested when he showed up at a police station “requesting the release of the money and his colleague,” the AG’s office said.
State officials Said Zepeda and Miguel Morales Robles told police the money was to be used to pay artists performing at the La Candelaria festival, the Veracruz Carnival and the Cumbre Tajin festival.
“Based on the statements given by those arrested and a document that supposedly authorized the transportation of the money, it is presumed that it is the property of the government of Veracruz,” the AG’s office said.
Information has been requested from “the National Banking and Securities Commission that will allow confirmation of the origin of the funds,” the AG’s office said.
Zepeda and Morales Robles were released “when the constitutional (holding) period expired and because no evidence was found to show that the crime of handling money from illicit proceeds had been committed,” the AG’s office said.
The money will be held in safekeeping until “it is confirmed in an incontrovertible manner that it is the property of the government of Veracruz,” the AG’s office said.
State officials have started the process for “the return of the cash” from the Attorney General’s Office, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte’s administration said Monday.
A few hours later, the state government announced the resignation of Finance and Planning Secretariat treasurer Vicente Benitez, but the reasons for his departure were not given.
The investigation of the cash comes less than seven months before the July 1 general elections.
“We are with all certainty dealing with a diversion of funds from the state government to the presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Enrique Peña Nieto,” the chairman of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, Jesus Zambrano, said.
The governing National Action Party, or PAN, said it was suspicious that the money was seized in Toluca, where Peña Nieto lives, and announced plans to file a criminal complaint against the Duarte administration for embezzlement and diversion of public funds.
The state government violated the Public Bidding Law and spending regulations by trying to supposedly turn the cash over to festival organizers, the PAN’s director of legal affairs in Veracruz, Victor Salas, said.
Veracruz state officials, however, denied any wrongdoing, insisted there was full transparency in the transaction and contended the money was flown to Toluca to pay a contractor who was in a hurry to collect his fee.
“There was never any intent to hide anything. Money was being transported, but it was done above the table,” Veracruz Finance Secretary Tomas Ruiz Gonzalez told Radio Formula.
Some 99.5 percent of the state government’s bills are paid via transfers or checks, but cash was being used in this case because the payment had to be made “immediately,” Ruiz Gonzalez said.
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