The Attorney General’s Office investigates several Yucatecan businessmen for their alleged participation in the diversion of tens of millions of pesos of federal subsidies to the field, granted by Sagarpa (today Sader) between 2015 and 2017.
These businessmen, dedicated to the industrialization of habanero pepper, coconut, and citrus, among other activities, received substantial public resources authorized by officials of the central offices of Sagarpa in Mexico City, when the head of that agency was José Calzada Rovirosa, according to information collected by Central 9, Grupo Megamedia’s Journalistic Investigation Unit.
The diversion of these subsidies in Yucatán would be part of a much larger diversion, of hundreds of millions of pesos, committed at the national level in the Ministry of Agriculture, in the last years of Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, through an operation that already some call it the “Sagarpa master scam”.
This network of corruption, including the part corresponding to Yucatán, was discovered by the Superior Auditor of the Federation (ASF) when reviewing the application of a large part of the subsidies delivered by Sagarpa from 2015 to 2017.
In this review, the ASF found that many of the producers and companies benefiting from this support did not have the infrastructure and capacity to comply with the authorized projects.
Forged documents and complicit officials.
Also, many of them, through the falsification of bank documents, pretended to have financial viability to access the subsidies, that is, they delivered falsified bank statements to prove that they had made their contributions.
(The operating rules of farm subsidy programs establish that part of the financing of a project is provided by the federal government, via a non-refundable subsidy, and the other by the beneficiary producer himself).
The ASF also found that many of these beneficiaries, including those from Yucatán, provided tax receipts from non-localized suppliers and that they did not accredit the work.
Consequently, a large number of projects reviewed by the ASF were never carried out, but the beneficiaries had the federal subsidies, with the complicity of Sagarpa officials, who would have been involved.
At the end of the simulation, this agency, to give an image of honesty and impartiality in the allocation of subsidies, hired several civil society organizations to “disperse” the resources and monitor their correct application.
The ASF demonstrated that these organizations did the opposite and allied with Sagarpa officials to expedite the diversion of subsidies.
Among these organizations, the ASF detected the Contraloría Ciudadana para la Rendición de Generales, A.C., Chiapas Siempre Unido, A.C., Biólogos Asociados, Consultoría, Asesoría Agrícola y Pecuaria, Bioasecan, S.C., Centro de Calidad para el Desarrollo, A.C. and National Coordinator of Fundaciones Produce, A.C. (Cofupro).
These “vigilantes” of civil society committed many irregularities, among them delivering settlement letters to the beneficiary companies, without their having verified the subsidy expenses.
During the ASF investigations, Sagarpa and the businessmen involved in the diversion of subsidies could not demonstrate the legal use of these resources, so ASF reported the facts to the FGR, the Tax Administration Service ( SAT), and the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance (UIF).
In the case of Yucatán, the ASF filed several criminal complaints. The last of them was on July 16, 2020. This was added to another one filed on February 20, for the same matter, and to others presented in 2017 and 2019 at the FGR.
So far in the administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the ASF has filed 63 complaints of events with the Attorney General’s Office, due to the diversion of federal resources, which occurred throughout the country, in different dependencies. Of that number, 38 are related to the old Sagarpa. In all cases, the FGR has opened investigation folders that are currently in their integration stage.
On July 31, 2016, the then governor Rolando Zapata Bello visited the cultivation areas of the company Agricultura Abierta y Protegida de la Peninsula. The hosts, according to an official bulletin, were investment partners Francisco Irazoqui Galaviz and José María Sabín Sabín, who guided the delegation.
“The Prosecutor’s Office has taken with all responsibility and attention the complaints of the ASF and in the case of those related to Sagarpa, we could soon see the first consignments. This time things are serious,” says a source from the FGR who asks not to be identified.
Regarding the SAT, the information held by Central 9 -which will be detailed in subsequent installments- confirms that this agency has already seized the assets of dozens of individuals and legal entities accused of embezzling the Sagarpa subsidies, while the UIF has blocked the accounts banking of several “billing” companies, linked to these deviations.
Central 9 obtained a copy of the ASF’s audit reports applied to the Yucatecan companies involved in this massive fraud, as well as the complaints filed against it with the FGR. They also had access to information included in the investigation folders.
According to these documents, most of the subsidies diverted in Yucatán, as part of Sagarpa’s “master scam”, were destined to supposed projects to cultivate and industrialize habanero pepper, promoted mainly by companies linked to the northern businessman. resident in the state, César Francisco Irazoqui Galaviz.
These irregularities are different from others reported by the ASF in Yucatán, attributed to alleged mismanagement of the resources of the Concurrency Program, by the Trust Fund for Agricultural Promotion of the State of Yucatán, which affected small citrus and livestock producers.
In this case, Irazoqui Galaviz set up a network with several Yucatecan companies, most of them “ghosts” or simulated, that received substantial subsidies from Sagarpa between 2015 and 2017, and even before those years, from the same agency. and from other public organizations, such as Conacyt.
The companies linked to Irazoqui Galaviz incurred the same anomalies detected by the ASF in other parts of the country, including the falsification of bank and even notarial documents.
According to the first investigations, this network would include companies such as Open and Protected Agriculture of the Peninsula, Healthy Drinks and Concentrates, Agro-Brothers of Fruits, Smart Greenhouses of the Peninsula, and Agroindustrial of Invernaderos del Sureste. Also Agroindustrial Peninsular San Francisco, Agroindustrial Irazoqui, and Agroindustrial de Sinaloa.
Simulated operations and strawman.
According to the findings of the ASF and the Public Prosecutor’s Office, several of these Sagarpa beneficiaries bought invoices from companies identified by the SAT as “Simulated Operations Billing Companies” (a practice classified as a tax crime that merits jail time), such as Construcciones Terrazur, Concrerama, Rentamid Sureste, Rentosur, Excavations, Heavy Machinery and Perforations, and Southeast Buildings, among others.
As mentioned before, the UFI “froze” the bank accounts of several of these companies and the SAT seized part of their assets.
In addition to the network of companies, Irazoqui Galaviz created another network of strawmen made up of members of his family, including his wife, nephews and children – and also partners, employees, and friends as well as several alleged producers of habanero pepper, according to information held by Central 9.
The former rector of the Anahuac Mayab University, José María Sabín Sabín, also participated in this network, who two years after renounced the priesthood and left the Legionaries of Christ congregation, appeared on a tour of former governor Rolando Zapata Bello, in August 2016 , as partner of Irazoqui Galaviz in the company Agricultura Abierta y Protegida de la Península SA de CV
This company is supposedly dedicated to the cultivation of habanero pepper in greenhouses and the industrialization of capsaicin, a substance extracted from that fruit.
Through this company, Irazoqui Galaviz operated several of the subsidies he received from Sagarpa.
The 63-year-old businessman from the north founded it on March 13, 2015, before the notary Manuel Emilio García Ferrón, with an initial share capital of $ 50,000, in partnership with his son Felipe Francisco Irazoqui Farah, 38 years.
At the beginning of 2016, the old Sagarpa, through Cofupro, which served as a dispersal agency of resources, delivered to Open and Protected Agriculture of the Peninsula $ 15 million from the Program for the Promotion of Agriculture: Agrifood Innovation Component.
The money was to be used to carry out the project “Dehydrated habanero chili at a low controlled temperature, which allows preserving the total capsaicin content available for large-scale industrial purposes.”
Supervision of the former governor Zapata Bello.
On July 31 of that year, Zapata Bello visited the facilities of that company, located on the Hoctún-Tahmek highway, on a three-hectare site, to learn about the progress of the project and did so with the help of Irazoqui Galaviz and Sabín Sabín.
Sabin Sabin, who for 17 years was rector of the Anahuac Mayab University, appeared on that visit as Irazoqui’s “partner”, although Sabín had no known any experience in the cultivation of habanero pepper, but rather stood out for his political ties.
In 2012, the former rector was part of the transition team of elected governor Zapata Bello and in 2018.
During that visit, according to an official bulletin, “the governor verified the latest generation technology in the greenhouses with the hydroponic method, with a production capacity of 170 tons per hectare.”
He also listened to the plans of the businessmen to extract capsaicin from the habanero pepper, used in the pharmaceutical industry and the production of protective products and anticorrosive paints.
However, Zapata Bello and his escort did not observe any physical work, equipment, or tools related to the process of “dehydrating habanero pepper” to extract capsaicin.
Indeed, in a review of the Open and Protected Agriculture facilities of the Peninsula, ASF agents verified in 2017, a year after the date set to finish the project, that the Irazoqui and Sabín company “did not comply with the execution of the aforementioned project “.
The auditors concluded that the company did not perform the extraction of capsaicin, “because it did not have the human, material and technical resources to do so” and even in the dehydration area, it was only a chile sorter that, also, was being used as a stage other than the object of the project.
The ASF’s ruling on this case, dated January 2018, evidenced only the first of many other irregularities that would later be discovered, not only in this case, but in many others, committed almost with the same pattern, and that served to that a small group of officials and businessmen seized tens of millions of pesos of public money that should be allocated to the improvement of the Yucatecan countryside, in what was, in effect, an authentic “master scam” (TO BE CONTINUED)…