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The Prosecutor's Office flies first and pays later

Disarray and bad practices in the State's institutions often cause many of the seized assets during judicial operations to not only be reinstated to their owners, but -to top it all- they have to be compensated by the treasury. The emblematic case of a light aircraft the Attorney General's Office took for its use, that was later scrapped as junk and in the end caused millions of costs to the State, proves that the confiscations, even if scarce, sometimes even become a lousy business for taxpayers.

08/08/2017 15:02:44

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Part two | For not returning a secured aircraft in 2000, the Attorney General's Office and the Property Administration and Disposal Service (SAE) must compensate the company Aeronautical Services and Repairs with 15 million dollars. The case reveals how the deficiencies of the Public Prosecutor's Office in the fight against drug trafficking becomes a boomerang for the Mexican State.

In July 2000, it was ordered the seizure of the Sabreliner aircraft and the detention of two pilots, who allegedly carried 67 packets of cocaine. However, two years later they were absolved because police agents altered the physical state of the aircraft, according to a 2002 ruling issued by a criminal judge in the state of Mexico (center of the country). This prevented it from serving as evidence during the process.

Thus, the Attorney General's Office was obliged to return the plane. However, it was used until 2006 and then delivered it to the SAE, public entity that sold it as scrap for $3,895.

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Aircraft seized by the PGR that are under SAE administration. Source: PGR

The company which originally owned the plane sued on the grounds that the confiscation was the result of an irregular activity of the Attorney General's Office. Furthermore, he said, the institution had to notify the company about the process from the outset.

In 2003 the ship was repaired, and its plates and badges changed for those of the Attorney General's Office, to incorporate it to the aerial fleet of the institution. The plaintiff claimed that the actions represented "a kidnapping", because the Prosecutor's Office "never intended to safeguard an instrument of a crime, but instead use it to its own benefit", according to the documents.

The Prosecutor's Office "never intended to safeguard an instrument of a crime, but instead use it to its own benefit"

The director of Legal Affairs of the Attorney General's Office, Adriana Campos López, acted in defense of it. Campos, now in charge of inspecting the institution, never publicly referred to this case or other similar, as it was verified in press archives. She was asked for an interview. However, at the date of publication of this article, it had not been granted.

A long and lost litigation for the treasury

The claimant company filed a suit of amparo in 2002 against the Attorney General's Office, but the return request that was made for the aircraft was rejected. The judicial conflict lasted until 2016 and the lethargy worked in favor of the company. During the process in 2005, the federal Congress approved the State's Asset Liability Act, which allowed the company to sue for the second time.

"The airplane case is a disgrace. It is the example of how things are done wrong in Mexico"

Years later, the Supreme Court of Justice intervened and ordered in 2014 that the Federal Court of Administrative Justice resolve the lawsuit. By the end of 2015, the court ruled against the Attorney General Office and SAE. And although the State later challenged, it failed again. A chain of errors and legal gaps on their part favoured this.

"The airplane case is a disgrace. It is the example of how things are done wrong in Mexico", said Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizen Observatory.

SAE was accused by the company of failing to keep, guard and supervise the means of transportation provisionally secured by the Public Ministry. "Without a resolution authorizing the disposal of the property, its sale was approved on April 24, 2006, when it was appropriate to make it available to the claimant (...) this decentralized body is also responsible for the damages caused by its irregular activity", argued the defense attorney of the company.

The final resolution compelled the Attorney General to compensate the company for $773,000 for damages and $14.3 million for losses. It is a gap in public finances: amounts represent half of the 2017 budget for the Assistant Attorney General's Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (SEIDO) which barely has 31.5 million dollars.

Who was the owner of the 67 packages of cocaine? This was an expensive mystery for the federal treasury due to the general shortcomings of the Attorney General's Office.

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Unknown statistics

The Mexican Government reports that between 2006 and 2016, 347 aircrafts belonging to the organized crime have been secured. However, the SAE declared the information on the value of each good as classified for five years.

The amount of sold goods and their corresponding appraisals was also requested through a demand of information. Such demand was denied and the consultation was deferred to the Executive Office for the Marketing of Personal Property and Real Estate, and was neither responded. In another application, it only provided partial information on the auction of goods.

While the Government claims that 347 aircrafts have been confiscated in that period, the SAE confirms that 166 were returned. Thus are the failures in the incorporation of the previous investigations by the agents of the Public Ministry.

There are also discrepancies in the securing of other type of vehicles confiscated from the narco: during the aforementioned period, 720 boats have also been secured but 118 were returned. They secured 45 railroad cars and returned 18. They secured 22,392 vehicles and returned 4,295 to their owners. As for real estate, 1,239 were secured and 692 properties were returned.

SAE's intel indicates that, of the millions of movable assets secured and confiscated in the 2006-2016 period, only 18,056 have appraisals. As for the 1,239 real estate, only 707. However, it does not break down into individual cases: "Each of the goods that by this time have not been commercialized or whose destination has not been defined to this date, provided that the destination is the sale of it, it will be reserved for five years".

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Avalanche of trials

According to the Assistant Attorney General's Office and the Office of International Affairs, other 264 lawsuits are pending against the Office of the Prosecutor for estate liability. Although the demanded amounts are unknown, the actions undoubtedly threaten the finances of the institution.

In regards to the trials already consummated, the Federal Court of Tax and Administrative Justice reports that in the period 2006-2016, 1,102 final judgments were issued, in which all public institutions are involved. However, it hides the compensatory amounts. And also the names of the people or companies. "It is legally impossible (the information disclosure), since it would imply the linking of the person with a jurisdictional dispute, rendering him or her identifiable", the Court replied.

In this series of trials against the Attorney General's Office, the Court confirms 16 cases, two of which have resulted in the payment of compensations for the concept of patrimonial liability for a total of $779,000, but without including the case of the Aeronautical Services and Repairs company. It doesn’t mention the judgment.

Narcos' luxury goods are auctioned off

On July 29, 2010, more than 200 Mexican Army officers, aboard armored vehicles and helicopters, clashed with the drug trafficker Ignacio Coronel Villarreal, alias Nacho Coronel, in Zapopán (Jalisco). He controlled cocaine traffic in the so-called Ruta del Pacífico and was considered the third most important man of the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán.

The official version indicates that the capo died, shot down by the military forces in a property in the colony Colinas de San Javier. As a result, two houses, several luxury vehicles, cash, jewelry and weapons were secured.

One of these residences was already auctioned through the SAE in 2015, for the amount of 333,000 dollars.

The information comes derived from the SAE, to which was requested information through the Transparency Law regarding the total number of houses, lands, real estate, companies or vehicles sold or auctioned, after being confiscated or secured from crime or for illicit enrichment.

The list of assets confiscated between 2006 and 2010 includes 14,748 items valued in 32 million dollars. Some were already auctioned off, like an industrial ship in Toluca, for the amount of 10 million dollars; a 2011 Mercedes Benz for $89,000; another car, a 2003 Lamborghini, for $83,000; a 2009 Maserati for $78,000, and a Patek Phillippe watch in 18-carat white gold for another $78,000.

However, neither the Attorney General's Office nor the SAE has compiled a detailed list of the assets secured or confiscated to the different criminal or drug trafficking groups. "The information doesn't exist", they replied.

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House where 'Nacho' Coronel was shot down and topped by SAE. Fotografía: SAE

Although the Attorney General's Office also reported the secured money, it does not have databases that specify the origin of the resources, with the intention of knowing which financial structures it is fighting.

The partial information provided reveals that the confiscated amounts are minimal compared to the multi-million dollar revenue from the drug business and organized crime.

Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizen Observatory, deplores the discretionary management of the authority when it secures or seizes the assets of organized crime. "Money, jewels, works of art and even drugs are susceptible to loss. Until there is a real commitment to hit the financial resources of criminals we will not have a breakthrough against them, as they can continue to operate from jail", he said.

On the other hand, the Government does not know the final destination of the money collected by the SAE sales or auctions. Everything goes to a general fund of the Federal Treasury. A financial destination to be reviewed.