UPDATE 1-Mexico awards highway project to sons of banned contractor

viernes 17 de abril de 2015 20:02 GYT

(Adds transport ministry statement)
    By Elinor Comlay
    MEXICO CITY, April 16 (Reuters) - Mexico has awarded a $75
million highway contract to a company closely linked to a
contractor that was banned from government work after botching
two projects, including a job on the same highway.
    The Communications and Transport Ministry awarded the road
contract late last year to a business named Epccor. Epccor is
owned by the sons of Juan Diego Gutierrez Cortina, who controls
a company that is on the government's list of banned businesses.
Among the ties between the two companies, one of the sons serves
as a director of both firms, a public filing shows.
    A Reuters investigation earlier this year found that
Gutierrez Cortina's company, Gutsa Infraestructura, is among
dozens of contractors that have won work with state oil company
Pemex even after being barred from contracting by the Public
Administration Ministry. Some banned companies have changed
their names and shareholders in order to win new contracts.
    Mexican law prohibits government entities from contracting
with companies that have shareholders directly or indirectly in
common with banned contractors. 
    Epccor itself has not been banned. A spokesman for the
transport ministry said it does not sign contracts with banned
companies. The spokesman did not respond to questions about the
ties between Epccor and Gutsa.
    Epccor, in partnership with a Spanish company called
Construcciones Aldesem, won a 1.045 billion peso contract to
widen a 14.5 kilometer (9 mile) bypass around the city of
Cuernavaca on the Mexico City-Acapulco highway. The partners
presented the lowest eligible bid.
    The transport ministry said in a statement on Friday that
there was no legal impediment to Epccor and Aldesem taking part
in the tender, adding that neither company was on a list of
sanctioned firms.  
    Gutsa and Epccor "are completely different companies," said
Epccor vice president Adolfo Gomez. He said Gutsa was a major
construction firm with many employees, and it is only natural
that some should have joined Epccor. Gomez himself once worked
at Gutsa.
    Officials at Aldesem did not respond to emails or phone
    One of Gutierrez Cortina's sons, Ignacio Gutierrez Sainz, is
a director of both Epccor and Gutsa, according to a public
financial document from last year. Gutierrez Sainz and two of
Gutierrez Cortina's other sons are shareholders in Epccor. 
    Epccor has shared an office address and a legal
representative with Gutsa, according to documents reviewed by
Reuters. Six Epccor employees on the web site LinkedIn list
Gutsa as their previous employer. 
    Epccor has changed its address, said Gomez, the Epccor vice
president. It is now in a building behind Gutsa's old building.
He noted that Epccor itself is not suspended from government
    Mexico's Public Administration Ministry, which maintains the
list of banned contractors, said in a written statement that an
independent auditor oversaw the bid process for the Cuernavaca
bypass. The ministry didn't respond to questions about the
relationship between Epccor and Gutsa.
    Mexico's Federal Audit Office in 2012 found that Gutsa
bungled a $30 million Pemex contract to build a monument to mark
the bicentennial of Mexican independence. Gutsa did not finish
the monument, known as the Estela de Luz, in time for the
anniversary, and the costs ballooned to more than $90 million,
the office found.
    Investigators later found that Gutsa won the monument
contract by taking advantage of a regulatory loophole. The
company received that contract while it was appealing a previous
ban over shoddy work on the Mexico City-Acapulco highway.
    The independent auditor who reviewed the highway contract
recently won by Epccor did not find any irregularities in the
process of awarding the deal. But he warned the transport
ministry of potential problems, noting that there was confusion
in the contract proposal over the degree to which the road was
to be widened.
    "This bid process is happening without the certainty that it
can be completed in the time and within the originally
considered budget," he added.
    Epccor's Gomez did not immediately respond to questions
about the auditor's warning.

 (Additional reporting by M.B. Pell in New York; Editing by
Leslie Adler)