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June 7, 2001

Narco News 2001

The Columnist That

Won't Be Censored

This is the most recent "Domingo Político" ("Sunday Politician") column by the Mexican journalist who resigned this week from El Universal Gráfico in refusal of being censored...

Sunday, June 3, 2001

Roberto Hernández, "El Depredador"

Citibank-Banamex, Smells Like Narco

Mario Villanueva Knows Too Much

By José Martínez M.

In the past decade nobody has profited like Roberto Hernández, the neo-banker spoilt by presidents. In recent days Hernandez has been global news. Thanks to his contacts in the government he succeeded at making the deal of his life and like an authentic King Midas has converted Banamex into a gold mine.

But not everything is honey over pancakes, although his friendship with President Vicente Fox puts the wind at his back. Fellow students at the Iberoamerican University, they made friends more than 30 years ago, in spite of the fact that they walked on different sides in politics. Roberto was always an ally of the PRI and Vicente fell in with the recalcitrant neo-PAN leader Manuel J. Clouthier, who introduced him into the ranks of the National Action Party. But fate united them: the first is fully involved in business and the second rose to power.

Friends to the end, they have had time to live together and recall old times, as happened one week after Fox's victory in the mythical elections of July 2nd. They shared bread and salt at the table, and sun and sand in the private beach of Punta Pajaros, in the nature reserve of Sian Ka'an on the Mexican Caribbean, where the magnate is owner of an immense portion of lands bathed by the turquoise sea.

Beneficiary of the economic policy that has resulted in poverty for millions of Mexicans - dozens of them committed suicide when they saw themselves lose their patrimony - Hernandez, by contrast with them, can sing a victory song. At the right hand of Carlos Salinas, and also Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox, the financial speculator has been obsessed with projecting a triumphant image, although on the rungs of the ladder of money and power he has found himself in scandal.

Roberto Hernández has been linked to narco-trafficking by the embattled journalist Mario Renato Menéndez, editor of the daily POR ESTO!, who has presented evidences of the disembarkation of narco-traffickers in his countless properties of Quintana Roo, and he also has been sharply questioned by the richest man in Latin America, Carlos Slim, the king of telecommunications and finance.

When Hernandez wanted to buy Bancomer, (Telephones of Mexico owner) Slim stopped him cold, taking advantage of his veto power: "It is a shame and a cynicism that Banamex, instead of selling its stock to pay for its bankruptcies, wants to use them to buy Bancomer."

But Hernández has gotten his. When everyone supposed that he was heading toward bankruptcy, he emerged as the baron of money. He sold Banamex to the most powerful bank on earth: Citibank, the preferred institution of narcos and politicians.


Under the lights of the press, Roberto Hernández Ramírez, the magnate of finances who surged from nowhere during the presidential term of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, has recurred to the United States Courts, using all his economic power through Banamex, to accuse the journalist Mario R. Menéndez Rodríguez, editor of the daily POR ESTO!, who published various findings of drugs in the properties of the preferred banker of Salinism-Zedillism.

Menéndez has published numerous reports about the presumed links of the banker with the narco, information that has bothered Roberto Hernandez who has tried to detour the case toward Banamex to avoid his supposed responsibility for the accusations against him.

The first journalistic accusations against Hernández were made in 1997 when in the pages of POR ESTO! various photographs of the shark boats, the cocaine they brought and the fuel cans on the properties of the flamboyant arch-millionaire were published.

Commenting on these facts, the editor of POR ESTO! said that "we made the official accusation of what we published, presented the evidence, and offered ourselves as witnesses to the federal attorney general's office to investigate the matter, and if he had filed charges, then we considered that we could help."

"For his part, Roberto Hernández tried to accuse me of having committed a crime because I didn't file a complaint against the drugs before publishing it. The problem is that when I presented the proofs it is because I had already verfied it with the Army, the Marines and the Air Force to confirm that everything that we had discovered was real and had been found on the properties of Roberto Hernandez. For this he also accused me of criminal trespass, but he didn't take into account that by accusing me of trespass he acknowledged that the drug was on his property."

"Clearly, Roberto Hernández had all the support of President Zedillo who united with him and ordered the attorney general's office to be an instrument at the service of Hernández, and then the attacks were from various angles. The first is through the attorney general, the second through the Interior Minister from the Office of Books and Magazines that wanted to take away the title of my newspaper and its license," recalled Menéndez.

On the eve of the visit of President William Clinton to the Yucatan, the newspaper POR ESTO!, in February 1999, published four supplements about the findings of the reporters who worked for Menéndez in the beach of the island of Punta Pajaros, property of Roberto Hernández.

During the government of Ernesto Zedillo, the banker counted with presidential protection. And the magazine La Crisis investigated that the luxury residence at 110 Agua Street, in the Gardens of Pedregal neighborhood, in the borough of Alvaro Obregon, that the Zedillo family lived in after leaving the presidential residence of Los Pinos, is property of Banamex, according to the files at the treasury office of the Mexico City government.

Other acts that bothered Roberto Hernández were when Mario Menéndez gave a conference at Columbia University in New York, where the experienced journalist spoke of the connections of the banker with narco-politics and the findings of his reporters.

The presentation by Menéndez in the Law School was assumed by Roberto Hernández to be a criminal act, and he filed a lawsuit in the United States courts for defamation.

The team of lawyers of Hernández presented before the Supreme Court of New York a lawsuit in the name of Banamex against Menendez and the journalist Al Giordano who has an internet site called Narco News.

The famous lawyer Martin Garbus, a prestigious social fighter in the United States, who has an impressive record as defender of individual liberties and human rights, and who has won very well-known fights, such as the creation of a new constitution in Czechoslovakia, son of Jewish parents who were in concentration camps, author of the books Heroes and Traitors and Tough Talk, assumed the defense of Menéndez in New York and has opened a file against Roberto Hernandez.

When a journalist asked Menéndez if Roberto Hernández has gone to his friend, President Vicente Fox, the editor of POR ESTO! responded that this has been the style of the banker, and that he used his relationship with Ernesto Zedillo to be protected.

"Hernández is an individual without scruples. He was one of the 38 stock market players that didn't hesitate to destroy millions of Mexican families in the market crash. Nor did he have any scruples to pass the hat in the house of Ortiz Mena when they collected $750 million dollars. Nor is it any secret how he acquired Banamex, and how mysteriously there was a fire in the National Palace in the part precisely where there were the records of the deal for the purchase of the banks. All of this says a lot about a person who couldn't afford a credit card in 1980 and seven years later appeared, as if by magic, with a fortune among the 300 wealthiest men on earth. And after jumping with Salinas, he went to Zedillo. And from Zedillo he went to Fox," recounts Menendez.


Banamex, the banking institution with 117 years of antiquity that until before its merger concentrated 28.5% of the total worth of the financial system, became property of Citigroup, owner of Citibank, with this leaving 83% of all banking in the hands of foreigners.

Established in 1929 in Mexico, Citibank escaped the nationalization of the banks in 1982.

The National Bank of Mexico is the institution with the most defaulted loans inside of FOBAPROA, now the Institute for Protection of Bank Savings (IPAB, in its Spanish acronym). Last year Banamex made a loan of $3 billion dollars to IPAB to finance its debt with Serfin bank.

It should be underlined that through the capitalization programs, FOBAPROA acquired from Banamex its defaulted loans of more than $3.4 billion dollars and until the end of last year with all the interest that amounted on the dividend that it gave this public trust with the endorsement of the government, this amount rose to $6 billion dollars.

The operations of Banamex awoke suspicions of financial experts. Including the powerful Carlos Slim has questioned financial authorities for protecting the bank of Roberto Hernández. The repurchase of stock is one of the marrows of this matter.


One of the mechanisms utilized by Mexican investors is the opening of secret accounts in foreign banks that have business in this country. There, the exclusive Citibank, for decades, has been the preferred bank of the elite of wealthy and powerful people involved in the middle of scandal. In recent years this financial institution has been involved in innumerable cases connected to the management of dirty money.

In Mexico, Citibank's representatives occupy one of the top places in the management of turbid funds, as have been the cases of Raul Salinas de Gortari, Carlos Hank Rohn, Carlos Hank González and other conspicuous businessmen and politicians such as Juan Manuel Izabal Villicaña, who are found among the lists of distinguished clients.

One of the latest scandals of Citibank was that of Izabal Villicaña, who was first assistant attorney general for the federal attorney general's office, who opted for suicide after Citibank executives violated the rules of bank secrecy when they reported to then attorney general Jorge Madrazo Cuellar that the ex-official in charge of guarding and administrating funds confiscated from the mafias of organized crime maintained funds of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Izábal Villicaña had a safe deposit box in Citibank where $700,000 dollars were found, plus some jewels and property titles, although he also had money hidden in other banks for more than $500,000 dollars.

The former executive Amy Elliot was one of Citibank's contacts with the Mexican political elite.

The North American executive had direct dealings with ex-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari to protect his embarrassing brother over the funds triangulated from Citibank to fiscal paradises of the Caribbean and Swiss banks.
Elliot was the contact for the deposits of Raul Salinas, whom she had classified as "select client."

Thus, in recent years, Citibank has been linked to the political scandals derived from the diversion of funds by part of the Mexican elite, among them some narco-traffickers.

In Chile and Argentina, Citibank was linked to money laundering by the extinct boss of the Juarez Cartel, Amado Carrillo Fuentes. When the boss sought refuge in South America, "The Lord of the Skies" had account # 36111386 in Citibank of New York. From this place, the financial operators of the narco-trafficker passed large sums in millions of dollars to ghost banks like MA Bank of the fiscal paradise of the Cayman Islands.

Citibank was also linked to Operation Casablanca, implemented by the DEA to trap a presumed network of financial executives linked to organized crime.

In effect, Citibank took over Confia Bank in a deal that was hardly transparent after the detention of the chairman of the board of this institution, Jorge Lankenau, and paid the laughable sum of $45 million dollars in exchange for the transfer of its stocks estimated to value more than a billion dollars.

Classified as the preferred bank for the management of money that comes from corruption, Citibank has protagonized countless histories of dirty businesses in all the continents, as happened in June 1998 after the death of the African dictator Sani Abach, who made deposits of more than $4 billion dollars in Citibank without the bank investigating the source of the funds.

Citibank has specialized in the washing of money and its executives have been untouchables up until now, in spite of the evidences that the United States Congress has of some management of the multi-millionaire funds that politicians, businessmen and dictators throughout the world have made.

On Mexico, Citibank was again in the eye of the hurricane after the scandal of the illicit deposits of he who was the chief of staff of the attorney general, Juan Manuel Izabal Villicaña.

Including that this bank managed the fund of the workers of the attorney general of the Republic and weeks before Izabal Villacaña committed suicide he had announced to the executives of Citibank the convenience of changing the accounts of the attorney general to other banks, among them Bancomer and Bital, because of the irregularities detected in the management of the workers' accounts in the PGR.

In some circles it has been mentioned that the executives of Citibank made public the existence of the safe deposit boxes of Izabal Villicaña maintained in this institution as form of pressure so that he would stop changing the accounts in that this bank maintained for the attorney general of the Republic. However, the decision by the chief of staff had been made, and that's why the bank authorities decided to break the bank secrecy law and hand over the proofs about its select client to attorney general Jorge Madrazo Cuellar.


The highest level authorities in the United States have looked the other way when it comes to the impunity with which Citibank has been managed.

Last year, after concluding the Democratic administration headed by William Clinton, the U.S. government emitted new directives to help the banks of this country to separate themselves from corrupt foreign officials, as a result of the accusations of money laundering of grand proportions and grave findings about the control of Citibank and the Bank of New York.

The "voluntary" directives include procedures that could utilize the banks to obtain information about the accounts of foreign officials involved in corruption, members of their families and close partners. They also review potentially suspicious transactions the could justify a deeper revision.

The measures are also part of the strategy of the government to supposedly combat money laundering, which was announced in September of 1999 after it was revealed that the Bank of New York, one of the largest in the country, had served as conduit for more than $7 billion dollars in Russian currency, some of which are believed to have had criminal activities at their origin.

The specifications were developed and emitted by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp - in charge of guaranteeing bank deposits -, the State Department and two treasury agencies: the Office of Control of Dividends and the Office of Savings Supervision.

Then-assistant secretary Stuart Eizenstat said that the directives are not obligatory for the banks because they apply to a limited number of banking clients who are not United States citizens. Although they are voluntary, said Eizenstat, it is hoped that they have a "real impact" and that federal supervisors will monitor the progress of the banks.

Citibank, with its seat in New York, one of the banking institutions with the most operations in the world, was under Congressional investigation in 1999 for presumed abuses by some executives in the management of millions of dollars deposited by the officials of various nations, who later were accused of corruption and money laundering.

The U.S. Senate investigation included Citibank's management of Raul Salinas' money, the older brother of ex-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico, money that would be related to the activities of narco-trafficking.

To the analysts, the effort by recent governments to "clean up" the file of Roberto Hernández calls attention, since it is presumed that the sale of Banamex to Citibank was managed as an affair of State, which is why the records of the neo-banker incubated in Salinism are not considered.


Mario Villanueva Madrid knows too much.

Man of the system, now prisoner number 1074 in the maximum security prison of La Palma - a step before Almoloya prison - is found involved with an entire presidential term.

"El Chueco" (the crooked one) - as his friends call him - rose to the peak of power with the support of the presidential family in the government of Carlos Salinas de Gortari. (Presidential brother and sister) Raul and Adriana were his major backers, although the one in charge of notifying him of the decision that he would be the candidate for governor of Quintana Roo was Joseph Marie Cordoba Montoya, the gray eminence behind Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

The "Maxi-Process" file on Mexican narco-politics involves conspicuous personalities in power and money.

In the Maxi-Process documents appear the names of Amado Carrillo Fuentes and his first lieutenant Ramon Alcides Magaña, "El Metro," as well as the principal bosses that bought businessmen and politicians, among them Mario Villanueva. During his gubernatorial term, "El Chueco" confronted the embarrassing brother of Ernesto Zedillo - Rodolfo Zedillo Ponce de Leon - telling him not to conduct "business" in Quintana Roo.

When the drug czar Mariano Herran Salvatti interrogated Villanueva, the names of conspicious personalities of the political cartel of the PRI began to flower.

Another of those involved in the businesses of Villanueva is the ex-ambassador to Argentina and Agriculture Secretary Eduardo Robledo.

Politicians of the highest levels like the ex-governor of Oaxaca and Interior Minister Diodoro Carrasco Altamarina, the ex-secretary of transportation Emilio Gamboa Patrón and the ex-personal secretary of president Zedillo, Liebano Saenz were mentioned in the files when some of those implicated were interrogated.

They wanted to obligate the hotel owner, Fernando Garcia Zalvidea, to declare that Liebano Saenz, Emilio Gamboa Patrón and Cordoba Montoya were linked to "The Lord of the Skies." Even the name of former presidential candidate Francisco Labastida Ochoa appeared in the maxi-process.

In an interview with Mario Villanueva - while he was living clandestinely - he directly implicated his predecessor Pedro Joaquin Coldwell and the former federal official Carlos Rojas Gutierrez as beneficiaries of narco-corruption.

"El Chueco" who, being one of the first interrogated by the drug czar Mariano Herrán, began to record all the telephone calls that he received and to film all his appearanced before judicial authorities.

When he was arrested in Cancun after being located by the DEA, $14,000 dollars and a personal computer were confiscated from Villanueva. In this machine, the now prisoner - according to journalists of the highest order - contains "all the information" that he possesses about those implicated in narco-politics.

Because Some Information is Too Important to Censor