While it is not uncommon in Mexican politics that a new administration investigates the previous one — especially if they belong to a different party — some are calling the recent arrest of a former top Sonoran government official unprecedented.
Jorge Morales Borbón, communications secretary for former Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padrés, was arrested Feb. 1 near his home in Hermosillo on suspicion of extortion.
His arrest came four months after Sonora’s new governor, Claudia Pavlovich, from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, created an anti-corruption task force led by prosecutor Odracir Espinoza Valdez. Pavlovich had promised a probe of Padrés while campaigning for governor.
Whether this will lead to anything bigger remains to be seen, experts said.
The Mexican government is investigating the former governor, a member of the National Action Party or PAN, and his brother for allegedly receiving millions of dollars from a businessman linked to companies that won state government contracts, The Wall Street Journal reported last year.
The top official in the Padrés administration, Roberto Romero López, and his wife, Monica Robles Manzedo, also a state representative, are wanted on charges of influence peddling. The anticorruption task force has also said it has more than 100 open investigations regarding public officials under the Padrés administration, according to news reports.
Although Mexico is a place where corruption is common, it seemed to thrive under Sonora’s first PAN government, said Olga Armida Grijalva, a law professor with the Universidad de Sonora.
Morales Borbón — who before his stint in government was the editorial director at Sonora’s newspaper El Imparcial — is accused of receiving about $53,000 (about one million pesos) in exchange for paying an outstanding debt the government owed a company for communication services provided.
There are various accusations from other media owners against the former secretary of communications, which are still being investigated, said Espinoza Valdez, the anti-corruption prosecutor.
Morales Borbón remains jailed while his case is tried, which Espinoza Valdez said could take about eight months. There is no bond for the charge of extortion.
Ten other former public officials, who have not been publicly identified, have been barred from holding public office, pending a decision on whether criminal charges will be filed.
But Espinoza Valdez has said Morales’ arrest “is the first of multiple options to make sure those who defrauded the confidence of the citizens face Sonoran justice.”
The relationship the former governor had with the press was tense and full of conflicts, a local journalist said.
“There was a political and public persecution full of insults and defamation,” said Luis Alberto Medina, radio host and director of Proyecto Puente.
Though Medina said he couldn’t speak about extortion, he said the government retaliated against the radio station by cutting public advertising after a critical interview he held with Padrés was broadcast.
As a result of that interview, in which Medina questioned the former governor about nepotism and corruption, members of the governor’s staff attacked him personally on social media, he said.
Medina, whose Proyecto Puente group won a prestigious national journalism award in 2015, said the situation for the PAN government spun out of control after Padrés was heavily criticized for instituting an additional vehicle registration tax in 2012.
There were also other issues involving an aqueduct, contracts for school uniforms and the expensive construction of a baseball stadium.
Grijalva, the law professor, says it remains to be seen if the arrest will lead to anything substantial.
“The political system in Mexico always finds a scapegoat to make it seem as if we are applying the law, when they are hiding a lot more,” Grijalva said.
Even if Pavlovich truly intends to get to the bottom of this, there are political and economic interests that can get in the way, she said, noting that governors from her own party are in similar situations as Padrés.
The prosecutor named by the governor to lead the anti-corruption task force has well-known ties to the PRI, said Grijalva, who noted she doesn’t have ties to either party.
“But we should give him the benefit of the doubt,” Grijalva said. “I know Espinoza and he is an honorable man and even without constitutional autonomy, he may have personal autonomy, and that’s very valuable.”