Mexican tax authorities announced Sunday night that they would review the country’s connections in the “Panama Papers” leak. Those names could include a big-money businessman who’s been dubbed the Mexican president’s “favorite contractor” in the media, and was involved in an alleged influence-pedaling scandal two years ago.
Juan Armando Hinojosa was involved in a so-called “conflict of interest” scandal at the end of 2014 when a journalistic investigation revealed President Enrique Peña Nieto’s wife had bought a $7 million mansion owned by Hinojosa’s construction firm Grupo Higa. A subsequent report by the Wall Street Journal found that his company also sold a home to Finance Minister Luis Videgaray.
Though Hinojosa hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing, that coziness with politicians raises questions about currying influence; his companies and affiliates “secured at least $2.8 billion in business with government agencies,” according to a 2015 report by the New York Times. Opposition lawmakers have long accused Hinojosa of winning contracts through his close ties to the president.
Now there’s a new dimension to Hinojosa’s troubles: The Panama Papers suggest he used Mossack Fonseca to transfer some $100 million out of bank accounts owned by 6 offshore companies under the names of his mother and mother-in-law.
The complicated web involved other entities in the U.K., New Zealand and the Netherlands.
Two documents reviewed by Fusion show Hinojosa and his wife “donated” these companies to their mothers on March 20, 2015, weeks after President Peña Nieto publicly announced a government investigation into the series of housing scandals that rocked his administration. About half a year later, that inquest cleared the president, his wife, and the finance minister of any wrongdoing and “conflict of interest” allegations.
The documents reviewed by Fusion, Univision and other media outlets working together in the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) suggest the $100 million approx. transfer was going to three New Zealand trusts.
Fusion could not confirm whether the transfer went through.
One leaked document shows that an adviser from the law firm acting on behalf of Hinojosa asked Mossack Fonseca to dissolve the companies upon completing the money transfer.
A November 2015 email sent by a Mossack Fonseca lawyer in Panama informed the compliance department that a background search had uncovered “possible links” between Hinojosa and the president of Mexico.
The lawyer said Hinojosa’s representatives dismissed negative media reports by claiming he’d been targeted by newspapers owned by business rivals, mentioning The New York Times‘ Mexican billionaire shareholder Carlos Slim.
“All accusations on any conflict of interest were investigated and last month he was exonerated… of all those accusations,” representatives of Hinojosa reportedly told Mossack Fonseca’s lawyer, according to the documents.
The spokesman for the presidency declined comment, saying the country’s tax authority has already issued a statement on the leaks.
Hinojosa did not respond to an ICIJ request for comment. Fusion sent a request for comment to the email used by D’Orléans, Bourbon & Associates, the law firm that represented him in the Mossack deal, but it was bounced back by the server. No further contact information was found for the firm.