Central bank boss denies insinuating he approved suspicious loan

The central bank governor dismissed President López Obrador’s insinuation that he approved a suspicious and potentially corrupt loan while he was head of state-owned development bank Bancomext.

López Obrador on Wednesday called for an investigation into loans Bancomext and development bank Nacional Financiera granted to Pemex under the previous government.

The president said the loans partially funded the state-owned oil company’s 2015 purchase of a US $ 635 million fertilizer plant in Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán. The Federal Auditor’s Office concluded last year that the price Pemex paid to the plant’s owner, Grupo Fertinal, was excessive.

López Obrador said the purchase was made when the Governor of the Bank of Mexico (Banxico), Alejandro Díaz de León, was the director of Bancomext.

But Diaz told a press conference on Wednesday that he was not director of the development bank when the loan was approved in October 2015, pointing out that he joined Bancomext a month later.

“These are things that were approved by the governing body of Bancomext before my arrival in this institution”, he said during the presentation of the last quarterly report of the central bank.

Díaz told a Bloomberg reporter that he appreciated the question about López Obrador’s remarks “because it helps me clarify that.”

Several prominent financial figures have also defended the head of Banxico, including Gerardo Esquivel, a member of the board of directors of the central bank, who called Díaz’s explanation “very important clarification”.

Gerardo Rodríguez, BlackRock portfolio manager and former deputy finance minister, wrote on Twitter: “In all of Mexico you won’t find a more honorable public servant than the current governor of Banxico.

Díaz’s predecessor at Bancomext was Enrique de la Madrid, who left the bank in August 2015 to take on the post of Federal Minister of Tourism.

López Obrador also mentioned his name when he asked for an investigation into the Bancomext and Nacional Financiera loans.

The president berated former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya, currently awaiting trial on corruption charges, for failing to provide information about the purchase of the Fertinal plant in a document he submitted to the office of the Attorney General (FGR) earlier this month.

Lozoya, extradited from Spain last month, has agreed to cooperate with the authorities and has been granted protected witness status.

In an Aug. 11 submission to the FGR, he accused three ex-presidents as well as former government ministers and federal lawmakers of corruption, much of which is believed to be linked to the payment of bribes by the Brazilian conglomerate of Odebrecht construction.

López Obrador said on Wednesday it was “inexplicable” that Lozoya remained silent on the purchase of the Fertinal plant given the excessive price that was paid.

“They [Pemex] paid about 9 billion pesos. … Do you know who granted them the loans? La Nacional Financiera and the Foreign Trade Bank [Bancomext],” he said.

López Obrador accused the purchase of the fertilizer factory of being a worse example of corruption than Pemex’s acquisition of another fertilizer factory in Veracruz, for which it also allegedly paid an inflated price.

The GRF needs to get to the bottom of this, he said.

Source: Bloomberg (fr), El Norte (sp)

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