May 28, 2019 / 4:25 PM / 22 days ago

Ex-Pemex CEO focused on graft, Mexican anti-money laundering czar says

MEXICO CITY, May 28 (Reuters) - The former chief executive of Mexican national oil company Pemex focused on enriching himself though acts of corruption which led to massive losses for the firm, the head the finance ministry’s financial intelligence unit said on Tuesday.

Emilio Lozoya, who headed Pemex from 2012 to 2016, engaged in “corrupt acts and businesses” at the firm, Santiago Nieto, the finance ministry top’s anti-money laundering official, told local radio station MVS Noticias in an interview.

“That should carry a consequence and a penalty,” said Nieto.

Lozoya, one of former President Enrique Pena Nieto’s closest aides, is at the heart of the first high-profile graft probe launched by the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who won election by a landslide last year promising to root out public sector corruption.

Lozoya’s lawyer, Javier Coello Trejo, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Lozoya has previously denied any wrongdoing in the case.

The finance ministry on Monday said it had blocked Lozoya’s bank accounts for allegedly carrying out “illegal” operations.

The allegations center on Pemex Fertilizers, a subsidiary of the firm created during Pena Nieto’s term, which purchased two fertilizer plants in 2013 and 2016.

One of the plants, ProAgro, was not operational when Pemex bought it from steelmaker Altos Hornos de Mexico (AHMSA) for $475 million, a sum critics say was inflated.

Nieto’s office also froze AHMSA bank accounts, alleging illicit operations.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent to revive ProAgro, the plant was still not operating this year, according to a scathing government audit of the 2017 operations of Pemex, Mexico’s biggest state-owned firm.

The second plant, Fertinal, operated well below capacity, and Pemex Fertilizers suffered net losses of $665 million that year, according to the report. Meanwhile its assets were worth $1.1 billion less over the course of the year, the report said.

Lozoya has defended the purchases as part of the government’s efforts to provide support to agriculture in Mexico.

Last week, the Public Administration Ministry announced that it had sanctioned two senior Pemex executives from the Pena Nieto administration, without identifying the executives.

One of the executives was Lozoya, according to the people with knowledge of the matter, who was barred from holding public office for 10 years but was not fined. (Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Writing by David Alire Garcia Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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