Mexico: Raúl Salinas cleared in corruption case

On Dec. 12 a federal judge in Mexico City acquitted Raúl Salinas de Gortari, brother of former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994), of corruption charges in a case that has been argued in the courts since 1996. The Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR) charged Raúl Salinas with unlawful enrichment involving some 224 million pesos—about US$14.7 million at the time—that had gone missing from a secret presidential discretionary fund between 1990 and 1994. Salinas was cleared by a federal court on July 31, 2013, but the PGR appealed that decision. The Dec. 12 ruling, which is final, concludes that the PGR failed to prove the charges, bringing the high-profile case to a conclusion after nearly 19 years. Once he had delivered his verdict, the judge left for a vacation.

Raúl Salinas' controversial acquittal came in the midst of a political crisis set off by a Sept. 26-27 police attack on a group of teachers' college students in the southwestern state of Guerrero. For many Mexicans the decision confirmed a widespread belief that the country's rich and powerful enjoy total immunity however flagrantly they break the law. In addition to the unlawful enrichment charge, over the years Raúl Salinas has faced federal charges for tax evasion, money laundering, embezzlement and drug trafficking. He spent 10 years in prison after a murder conviction, but the conviction was overturned and all the other charges were eventually dropped.

The circumstantial evidence for corruption seemed overwhelming. During the early 1990s Salinas bought a total of 41 properties in nine states, valued at about $15 million, while he was working for a modest salary in a now-defunct federal program, the Basic Commodities Distribution Company (CONASUPO). Salinas also moved tens of millions of dollars into foreign bank accounts during the period, including some $100 million he reportedly transferred from 1992 to 1994 through New York-based Citibank to the Cayman Islands and London and ultimately to bank accounts in Switzerland. Salinas has never adequately explained how he acquired all this money. (Reforma, Mexico, Dec. 16; CNN Expansion, Dec. 16; New York Times, Dec. 17, from correspondent; Vanguardia, Mexico, Dec. 22, from El País, Madrid)

Salinas' murder conviction was for allegedly masterminding the Sept. 28, 1994 murder of his former brother-in-law, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu. The victim was the general secretary of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and his killing was the second of two bizarre murders that year involving officials of the party, which had ruled Mexico virtually unchallenged since 1929; PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta had been gunned down at a campaign rally in Tijuana on Mar. 23. The case against Salinas grew more bizarre as it progressed. The first prosecutor was the victim's brother, Mario Ruiz Massieu, who resigned from the investigation and ended up committing suicide in New Jersey in 1999 while under house arrest on US federal drug trafficking and money laundering charges. The second special prosecutor, Pablo Chapa Bezanilla, employed a psychic and was implicated in the October 1996 planting of a body on Salinas' ranch; he fled to Spain, was extradited but was cleared of all charges. Salinas was finally convicted of Ruiz Massieu's murder on Jan. 21, 1999; he received a sentence of 50 years in prison.

A court overturned the conviction in 2005, and Salinas was released from the Santiaguito prison in Almoloya de Juárez, México state, on June 14 of that year. According to the left-leaning newsweekly Proceso, all three judges involved in his release—José Nieves Luna Castro, Adalid Ambriz Landa and Manuel Baráibar Constantino—have found their judicial careers advancing smoothly since 2005. (Proceso, Dec. 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, December 28.