Former employee of Citigroup's Banamex denies he took part in loan fraud
By Elinor Comlay
NEW YORK, July 25 (Reuters) - A former middle manager at Citigroup's Banamex unit in Mexico denied he was involved in abetting a corporate loan fraud involving oil pipeline maintenance company Oceanografia.
As reported by Reuters on July 21, Banamex is looking into how it lost more than $500 million from the lending to Oceanografia, and has zeroed in on Jose Ortega as a key figure, according to two people familiar with its probe. The sources said that Ortega changed employee manuals that the bank used when deciding whether to lend to Oceanografia and other companies that supply services to Mexican state oil company Pemex.
The changes resulted in loans to these companies receiving less scrutiny and therefore enabled fraudulent borrowing, the sources said. Ortega could not be reached to comment for that story.
Two days after that story was published, Ortega told Reuters in a statement that he never had the authority to change employee manuals on his own, and never made any changes in favor of any particular customer. He did not work at the bank while the fraudulent loans were made, he added.
"I have been unfairly mistreated by something that I did not participate in and that I did not have any knowledge about, because I had quit the bank more than a year previously," he said in his statement.
A spokesman for Citigroup declined to comment on the matter.
The Mexican banking regulator, Comision Nacional Bancaria y de Valores (CNBV), has poured scorn on the suggestion that Ortega was instrumental in the fraud, and says Ortega probably played only a bit part. The real problem was with the bank's institutional failure to have proper controls in place, CNBV President Jaime Gonzalez said in the July 21 story.
In that story, Reuters reported that in 2012 the Mexican bank fired Ortega for having an outside business relationship with Oceanografia, creating a conflict of interest, according to one of the two sources familiar with the bank's probe. Banamex had discovered that Ortega had received $200,000 from Oceanografia's CEO Amado Yanez, the source added. One of the two sources also said Ortega worked for Oceanografia as a consultant after leaving Banamex. Continuación...