Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Today's headlines: How to put other people's money to work for you

Looks like we now know where the money went — or at least a chunk of what investors in the fraudulent Ficrea financial firm have lost. Under the lead headline “Ficrea owner takes a fortune to the United States,” Reforma reports that fugitive Ficrea majority partner Rafael Olvera Amezcua has over the last three years bought up 57 buildings in the U.S., worth about 26.5 million dollars. That’s a small percentage of the approximately 193 million dollars that are missing, but it’s the first indication we have of where the money went. The case has been played up nationwide; it’s a blatant example, writ large, of what so many ordinary people live with — the pressing threat of being ripped off in one way or another as you go about your daily life. It’s common, for example, for bank savings to simply disappear. Sometime you get the money back, sometimes you don’t. But almost never is a culprit apprehended.

The source for the Reforma Ficrea story is the paper’s own investigation. That makes it an exclusive, so El Universal fronts a related story, quoting the president of the victimized Mexico City Superior Court (TSJDF) under its No. 4 headline: “We thought Ficrea was solvent: TSJDF.” The court lost 120 million pesos (about 8.5 million dollars) in the affair. One can only imagined robed jurists and baffled clerks gathered in conference, their faces red with a powerful mix of wrath and embarrassment, wondering what the hell happened. The court president, Edgar Elías Azar, insists that due diligence was exercised before they handed over any money, and Ficrea was found to be “solvent, in appearance.” That seems to miss the point — the problem wasn’t that Ficrea didn’t have enough capital. It’s that they stole it.
    TSJDF’s loss raises a question: What was a court doing with a loose 8.5 million bucks to invest? The answer is that the money didn’t come from the court’s operating funds, budgeted by the Federal District Legislative Assembly. It is (was) interest, gains and carryovers from savings and investments over the years, activities that the court is allowed to participate in to accumulate funds for a rainy day. Elías Azar says the TSJDF will seek compensation “through the courts, like any other person.”

La Jornada leads with the revelation that the last two police chiefs of Cocula, Guerrero, the town just outside Iguala within whose city limits the 43 missing students are thought to have been killed and/or incinerated, were former army officers imposed by the Defense Secretariat. The headline: "Retired military men, chiefs of police in Cocula since 2011." This is the kind of story that fuels the contention of activists, including the students’ families, that the crime was the work of federal, not just state and local, authorities. La Jornada’s source is testimony by Cocula Mayor César Miguel Peñaloza, who was held for questioning all last week by the organized crime division of the federal Attorney General’s Office before being release, uncharged.
    Peñaloza said the army-imposed chiefs had their own agenda and operated independently from the mayor, as though he worked for them rather than the other way around. “They were never accountable to me for their actions or operations,” the mayor testified. Whatever the motives of the army action were, things turned out badly. One of the police chiefs was gunned down in 2012, and the other is under arrest for alleged participation in the Iguala massacre. A third retired army man served as an assistant Cocula police chief before he too was arrested.


Milenio leads with the latest on the Michoacán saga, two weeks after the shootout between rival former self-defense groups that left 11 people dead. “10 deaths attributed to Hipólito’s group” is the Milenio head. Investigators had originally split the death toll — with five of Hipólito Mora’s men killed, and six belonging to the rival gang led by Luis Antonio Torres, aka El Americano. Yesterday, however, a judge from the state capital of Morelia announced that Hipólito and 26 of his men (all in jail) will face 10 murder charges. Only the death of Mora’s son will be attributed to El Americano’s gang, all of whom are expected to turn themselves in today (Tuesday). Mora is saying he and his people acted in self-defense, which, in the unlikely case that it's true, must mean his men are much better shots than El Americano’s. Mora's lawyer say’s he’ll be out in less than a week, and Hipólito himself has indicated he might run for Congress.
    The utter ridiculousness of this episode and the comic-opera absurdity of the characters around it (one of the drug gangs the so-called self-defense groups were up against before they were up against each other is called Los Viagras), tends to obscure the horrific reality of life in Michoacán these days. One of Mexico’s most naturally beautiful and culturally rich states has been gripped by violence for several years now. Its residents live with more fear than hope, except for the lucky ones who feel only resignation. Observers are increasingly questioning the wisdom of investing crime control in a federally designated security commissioner, on the simple grounds that things have not improved since Alfredo Castillo rode into town. Look for a strategy change soon, especially given the expected shake-up of President Peña Nieto’s cabinet, with several current secretaries expected to run for elected office.

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