Deposition of Raúl Salinas de Gortari
Lessons of the Mexican Peso Crisis Foreign Relations, John C. Whitehead, Chairman, Marie-Josée Kravis, Project Director.
The Mexican Shock: Its Meaning for the United States
We have at last a certifiable official document which provides some information in the long scandal-ridden trial of Raúl Salinas de Gortari, currently identified as inmate number 0597-AJ-95 of the Mexican prison system. Until his arrest, in February 1995, he was somewhat less notorious—although well known where it counted—as the fun-loving, free-spending brother of Carlos Salinas de Gortari, president of Mexico from 1988 to December 1, 1994. Officially, it is only the former president’s older brother who is being judged, but the trial has really become an exorcism of the Salinato—the six dizzying, hopeful years in which Mexico was governed by Carlos Salinas and which ended in chaos and ruin.
In accordance with Mexico’s legal code, public information about the trial is limited, and consists mostly of brief declarations to the press by the accused’s lawyers and by his prosecutors, and of occasional leaks by the attorney general’s office, which is in charge of the case. Reporters cannot attend the trial itself. The document we now have before us is a transcript of sworn testimony by the president’s brother, in answer to questions presented last March by Swiss banking authorities regarding the money he deposited in their banks. The document was leaked (this time, perhaps, not by the attorney general) and then published in full in the July 8 issue of the newsweekly Epoca. It is not a particularly forthcoming declaration but, to the degree that it exists at all, it is immensely enlightening:
Question Number Nine: Who were your financial, commercial, et cetera partners in [the days when Raúl’s brother was in power]? Answer: …In this deposition I am not giving the name of these investors because I know that the Mexican authorities would use this information to proceed against investors who trusted me, and that they would even take advantage of this information for tax payment purposes….
Question Number Forty: Why is there no written documentation [of the terms of a $50-million loan made to Raúl Salinas by one of his business associates]? Answer: …Because these investors deposited the money for these loans out of their own accounts and not from their companies, and for them, as rich men, the concept of money is different from what it is for those who have to work for a salary.
As it happens, the one-time First Brother was not jailed on charges of fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, insider trading, embezzlement, or profiteering—all subjects the Swiss were interested in—but for something that does not come up in the 8,500-word transcript: murder. The Mexican attorney general’s office would like to convict Raúl Salinas of masterminding the killing of his former brother-in-law, José Francisco Ruiz Massieu. This murder, a central event in the recent turbulent history of Mexican politics, is itself part of such a complicated drama that a brief recapitulation might be helpful.
The victim, Ruiz Massieu, was not only a former member by marriage of the Salinas family and a former governor of the violent and drug-infested state of Guerrero but also the newly elected secretary general of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. He was one of Carlos Salinas’s longtime political allies, and had been eased into the post by the president. Ruiz Massieu was gunned down in broad daylight on a busy Mexico City street on September 28, 1994, six months after the assassination of Salinas’s handpicked presidential candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio. Ruiz Massieu’s brother, Mario, was appointed by President Salinas to investigate the crime.
Within days of the murder, Mario had arrested thirteen people—bumblers all, including the gunman, a young, barely literate ranchhand from the north whose submachine gun jammed and who was wrestled to the ground by a bank guard. There is evidence that nearly everyone arrested on Mario’s orders was badly tortured, and this makes their confessions suspect. But what they confessed was that they had been hired by a seedy, small-time PRI functionary, who was also arrested. The functionary, Fernando Rodríguez González, in turn confessed that the murder plot had been put together by his boss, an undistinguished diputado from the northern state of Tamaulipas. The diputado, Manuel Muñoz Rocha, has not been seen in Mexico since he was filmed arriving at the hospital where Ruiz Massieu was dying. Many people here believe that Muñoz Rocha too is dead. (He was last sighted in Texas a couple of weeks after the murder, in the company of important Mexicans with known drug connections.) With the discovery of the trail leading to Muñoz Rocha, Mario Ruiz Massieu became something of a folk hero; he had done a swift and efficient job of tracking down his brother’s killers, even though he failed to come up with a satisfactory explanation of a motive, or to identify the person or persons who were ultimately responsible for the plot Muñoz Rocha put together.
Nearly seven weeks into the investigation, on November 23, Mario Ruiz Massieu held an electrifying press conference, in which he a) announced his resignation and b) charged that unnamed “demons” within the ruling party stood in his way and prevented him from revealing the truth about his brother’s murder. In December, Salinas de Gortari handed over power to Ernesto Zedillo. On February 28, Pablo Chapa Bezanilla, the special prosecutor appointed by the new administration’s attorney general, announced the arrest of Raúl Salinas. According to the special prosecutor, the evidence pointed to the former president’s brother as the missing mastermind of the plot to gun down José Francisco Ruiz Massieu.
Mario Ruiz Massieu, the victim’s brother, then left the country. His destination was Spain, but he was arrested at Newark Airport on charges of bringing in large amounts of undeclared cash. Mexican authorities immediately filed a request for his extradition; Mario was guilty, the attorney general’s office said, of covering up Raúl Salinas’s role in his brother’s murder. He remains under house arrest in New Jersey, awaiting the result of the fifth extradition request to be filed by the Mexican government.
For several months now, the insider gossip has been that, although investigators have failed to come up with strong evidence to convict Raúl Salinas of murder, there is more than enough evidence of crooked business deals to convict him of a new charge, “inexplicable enrichment.” If this proves to be the case, it will be unprecedented: to date no such ranking member of the political elite has ever been held answerable for profits unlawfully gained as a result of his powerful connections.
But Raúl Salinas’s deposition, and the torrent of allegations that have followed its publication in Epoca, allow for other distressing speculations. At the very least the statement provides evidence that Raúl Salinas—a one-time revolutionary and the author of, among other works, a short book of erotic tales—did not arrive at his current predicament singlehandedly. Indeed, it is beginning to look as if, at one point or another during the six years that Carlos Salinas ruled, and during the preceding six years, when Carlos was the powerful secretary of planning and the budget, there was hardly a Mexican tycoon with whom Raúl wasn’t on close business terms.
He lent, for example, $15 million for unknown purposes to the president of one of the country’s largest banks. (That he made the loan took some time to establish. “Question number eighteen: [Whom] did you lend money to in the period from 1988 to 1995? Answer: …To the household help, to the chauffeurs and the stableboys, and to those employees who asked me.”) He borrowed $50 million (“…for an investment fund”) from the owner of Mexico’s largest cellular phone company. He was partners in a bus-manufacturing firm with José Madariaga Lomelín, head of the Mexican Bankers Association.
Was the President’s brother also on friendly business terms with Ricardo Salinas Pliego (no relation), a man who until just recently was merely the wealthy owner of a chain of electrodomésticos stores, but who now owns Televisión Azteca, the second largest television network in the country? He was not friendly at all, Ricardo rushed to say after Raúl’s downfall. But if that was the case, why did Raúl lend $29.7 million to Ricardo, as he admits in his deposition? The local papers and the Wall Street Journal took up the story, reexamining Salinas Pliego’s successful bids for Televisión Azteca in 1993. The network was auctioned off as part of Carlos Salinas de Gortari’s campaign to privatize unprofitable state enterprises. Bidders had been told that there would be a ceiling of $450 million on the bids and that if all the bidders matched that sum, government officials would award the station to the bidder with the “best proposal,” according to Epoca. In fact, however, the station was sold to the electrodomésticos Salinas for $656 million.
Televisa, the privately owned media giant which lost its near-monopoly status when Azteca was bought and revitalized, was delighted with the story (despite the fact that Raúl had been partners with one of its senior newscasters, who also happens to be the publisher of Epoca and his third partner in the bus company). A Televisa reporter who is well informed but not free of bias suggested an explanation for the $29.7 million lent by Raúl Salinas to Ricardo Salinas Pliego: perhaps it was a commission of just under 5 percent on the winning bid. (Ricardo Salinas’s own explanation—after he stopped denying the existence of the money—is that the $29.7 million was simply part of a package loan he put together from various sources to finance the purchase of Azteca, and the attorney general’s office, after calling him in for questioning, appears to have left it at that.)
Question number ten: What were your principal sources of income during the years 1988-1995? Answer: …On the private side, those related to licit business activity, and, on the public side, the salaries and benefits I was paid [as a government official, which he was, until 1992] and, lastly, my own savings and rental income…. At the beginning of 1994, as a reference, the total would have been around $10 million.
It is to alert Swiss authorities that we owe the discovery of a gap of at least $100 million between Raúl Salinas’s estimate of his wealth and reality. Imprisoned and pressed for cash, Raúl decided last November to send his wife and her brother to Switzerland, with a couple of suitcases and a withdrawal slip for some significant portion of the approximately $83 million he had deposited in a bank there under an assumed name. This misadventure led to Mrs. Salinas’s brief stay in a Swiss prison, and to the deposition by Raúl Salinas which was reprinted in Epoca.
At the request of Mexican officials, Raúl Salinas’s known accounts in Europe have remained frozen. Journalists have been calculating that $300 million would be the lowest realistic estimate of Salinas’s wealth. Meanwhile, Citibank, which handled Raúl’s money in the United States, including the transfer of the $50 million loan to a Cayman Island account, has retained Robert Fiske, the former independent prosecutor in the Whitewater investigation, to represent it in whatever legal complications may arise from the case.