Genaro García Luna paid The universal a monthly payment of 25 million pesos to obtain favorable coverage for his management as Secretary of Public Security. This was stated on Monday by Héctor Javier Villarreal, Coahuila’s Finance Secretary in the Government of Humberto Moreira (2005-2011), in the trial against the former official in New York. Villarreal explained that Moreira served as an intermediary between the accused and Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, the owner of the newspaper, one of the largest circulation in the country. “The agreement was 25 million pesos per month to support it,” said the witness.
Villarreal, who was State Secretary of Finance from 2008 to 2010, said that when he was in office he was in a meeting with Moreira and García Luna, although he did not specify when it was. “García Luna told Governor Moreira that he needed his support, that he did know someone in The universal”, recounted the witness. “Humberto Moreira told him that he was a good friend of the owner of the newspaper, that if he needed anything, he would let him know,” he added.
Villarreal is the first former Mexican official to testify at the trial. García Luna faces three charges for cocaine trafficking, another for organized crime and one more for making false statements. Since the previous hearings, the Prosecutor’s Office had accused him of giving bribes to favorable media and threatening journalists who criticized him.
Always according to his testimony, García Luna was concerned because the rumor was circulating in the media that he had been kidnapped by members of a cartel, an episode that received attention during the trial and that supposedly happened at the hands of Arturo Beltrán Leyva’s people. “García Luna asked him if there was any way he could bring him closer [a Ealy Ortiz], to tell him that none of this was real,” Villarreal narrated. “Without any problem,” recalled the declarant about the words of his boss. “What was the relationship between Mr. Ealy Ortiz and Mr. Moreira?” Assistant District Attorney Erin Reid asked him. “She was his compadre,” she answered. In the trial, a photo of a party of Ealy Ortiz with Moreira was shown and that the owner of The universal he was godfather to the ex-governor’s grandson.
With the supposed mediation of Moreira, García Luna and the people from the newspaper agreed to give favorable coverage, highlighting the achievements of the Ministry of Public Security and cleaning up the image of its headline, said the witness. The person in charge of making the payments was Sergio Montaño, a senior officer and a man close to the then secretary, according to testimony. “We went straight to The universal to close the deal,” Villarreal said. In that first meeting, cash was delivered to make the pact, the former official commented. “[Montaño] He had a small suitcase with the cash and he said that the rest was in the van in which we traveled,” he said.
Villarreal said that Montaño once asked him to make the payment to the newspaper with money from the Government of Coahuila. The witness raised the invoice with his right hand in the Brooklyn court and read the most relevant data of the payment order, with The universal as beneficiary. The invoice was issued on June 24, 2009, under the concept “Advertising campaign to rescue tourism” and did not have a page. The amount was 11.5 million pesos, 10 million pesos as an alleged irregular payment plus one and a half million pesos for taxes. “I imagine it was a favor, to pay what they lacked [ese mes]”, explained the witness. The money came from the Ministry of Finance, he commented.
Villarreal said that the normal procedure for accounts payable from the Government of Coahuila was to issue an invoice with folio, then scan it, file it and upload it to a payment system. But he admitted that when deviations or overpayments were made, that information was not uploaded to the system. “Prepare without folio, thank you”, read in a post it, a note stuck on the invoice that he showed in the room. The testimony is one of the few times that one of the participants in the scheme investigated by US authorities has described him in public.
“I kept all the payments that were not consistent in a box,” the witness acknowledged. “Everything I thought could hurt the governor,” he added. The former treasurer turned himself in in February 2014 in Texas, one day after being released on bail by Mexican authorities. He was in the custody of US authorities for eight months, he said. “When I came here to the United States, I brought all those invoices and a server,” the deponent recounted. Although the name of García Luna does not appear on the payment order, the invoice issued by the Government of Coahuila is one of the most important documentary evidence that the Prosecutor’s Office has managed to present in the judicial process.
Villarreal implied that the relationship between Moreira and García Luna was close, beyond the fact that some people close to the former governor remember that they were distant. He recounted, for example, that he participated in a tour with his boss and the former secretary at an intelligence center of the Ministry of Public Security in Mexico City. The defendant showed them how the Pegasus spyware worked and offered it to the Coahuila government, the witness said. The purchase, however, did not materialize. The state authorities were afraid of being spied on by their federal counterparts, the witness justified. The Government of Coahuila sought to obtain budget items from the federal Public Security Secretariat for state corporations.
The witness also recounted that there was a time when he accompanied Governor Moreira to García Luna’s house in Morelos. “It was a hacienda-type house, a very large house,” Villarreal recalled. “Licenciado García Luna was going to give him a ride by helicopter [a Moreira] and I was going to talk to him,” he said about that meeting. In one of the meetings, in a house in the luxurious area of Santa Fe in 2010, the issue of payments to the media was touched upon, the witness commented. “He told Professor Humberto that everything was going well, that everything was working correctly,” he said. At one point during the interrogation, García Luna turned around, looked at his wife and raised his eyebrows, as if to say: “How do you see what he is saying?”
García Luna’s lawyers tried since last weekend to block the part of Villarreal’s testimony that mentioned the payment of bribes to The universal. Judge Brian Cogan had agreed with the defense and had said that he was not going to allow the witness to speak on that point, although he later corrected himself. The judge said that he would accept it if the Prosecutor’s Office could make the deponent testify about a specific episode in which money was delivered. Cogan said he was not going to allow the issue of media bribery to be brought up in “generalities.” It remains to be seen if there are other people called to testify on this point and who can provide details on the specific payment of bribes.
Villarreal said that the Moreira government acquired several media outlets and paid bribes to journalists to receive favorable coverage, although he did not say which ones. “In addition to serving to have a better image,” explained the former official, “it was also a way to support or harm someone, make them look better or damage their image.” “Many payments for coverage were made, not only in Coahuila, but also at the federal level,” he added.
In March 2011, two months after stepping down as governor, Moreira became the national leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Its finance secretary, who has already pleaded guilty and is on probation awaiting sentencing, described a corrupt scheme that inflated the Coahuila government’s public works payments and then charged builders a commission. illegal. He said that he had earned 2.5 million dollars thanks to that scheme and that Governor Moreira, about 40 million dollars. Moreira has maintained his innocence ever since and has accused him of being the victim of a “smear campaign.”
After Villarreal it was the turn of Anthony Wayne, US ambassador to Mexico between 2011 and 2015. Wayne said that he met the defendant on several occasions and that Luis Cárdenas Palomino and Ramón Pequeño, co-defendants in the case, were present at several meetings. It is interpreted as an attempt by the Prosecutor’s Office to undermine the defense strategy of presenting to the jury photos of his client with senior US officials such as former President Barack Obama and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. His participation was brief. The next hearings are scheduled to continue with new witnesses. It was also announced that exceptionally there will be no session on Thursday.
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