Mexico: HP fined in latest Pemex scandal

On April 9 the California-based technology company Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced that it was paying a $108 million fine to the US Justice Department and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to end an investigation into subsidiaries in Poland, Russia and Mexico that allegedly paid bribes to officials. The HP subsidiaries "created a slush fund for bribe payments, set up an intricate web of shell companies and bank accounts to launder money, employed two sets of books to track bribe recipients, and used anonymous email accounts and prepaid mobile telephones to arrange covert meetings to hand over bags of cash," according to a statement by the Justice Department. HP said the corruption "was limited to a small number of people who are no longer employed by the company."

In Mexico the bribery was aimed at winning contracts worth some $6 million "to sell hardware, software, and licenses" to Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the giant state-owned oil monopoly, the Justice Department said. "HP Mexico understood that it had to retain a certain third-party consultant with close ties to senior executives of Pemex. HP agreed to pay a $1.41 million 'commission' to the consultant." The consultant then paid about $125,000 to a Pemex official, according to the Justice Department statement. (San Jose Mercury News, April 9; La Jornada, Mexico, April 10, from AFP, Reuters)

This is the second revelation in less than two months of corruption involving Pemex and a US corporation. At the end of February the US banking corporation Citigroup Inc. announced that its Mexican subsidiary, Banco Nacional de Mexico (Banamex), had lent some $400 million to a major PEMEX contractor, Oceanografía SA de CV, based on falsified invoices that Oceanografía claimed it had issued to Pemex. According to initial reports, some PEMEX employees and one Banamex employee had collaborated in this scheme.

But on April 2 the New York Times reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the US attorney's office for the Southern District of New York had started a criminal inquiry into the possibility that Citigroup employees in the US were involved. The investigators are also looking to see whether the bank ignored warning signs, according to the article. In addition, the US attorney's office in Massachusetts has issued subpoenas in connection with suspicions that Citigroup may have failed to maintain proper safeguards against money laundering. (NYT, April 2)

In addition to corruption scandals, Pemex faces complaints about environmental damage. As of April 9 some 75 communities in Nacajuca and Jalpa de Méndez municipalities in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco had blocked roads to oil installations for a week to demand that representatives of Pemex and the state return to discussions with local residents. The communities want to be compensated for damages caused by the escape of gas from the Terra 123 oil well starting on Oct. 19; the problems continued into December. The discussions broke off on March 25 when Pemex announced it wouldn't pay for damages. According to Verónica Pérez Rojas, a legislative deputy from the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), about 50,000 families were affected by the leak, which she said contaminated crops and bodies of water and caused the deaths of farm animals. (LJ, April 9)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 13.