Javier Duarte, the ex-governor of Veracruz convicted for money laundering and illicit association, has been sentenced to 9 years in prison and could be released much earlier if he’s lucky, and most Mexicans think he ‘had it easy.’
The former governor confessed to his crimes on Wedneday, as part of a deal with Mexico’s Public Prosecuting Office (PGR) in order to facilitate the process in exchange for a much shorter sentence.
When the PGR presented the charges, not being able to build a case for organized crime, they were asking for up to 50 years in prison. They argued that Duarte headed an organization whose criminal operations were carried out in Veracruz, the eastern Gulf state of Campeche and Mexico City between 2011 and 2016.
Besides his time behind bars, Judge Marco Antonio Fuerte Tapia ordered Duarte to pay a US$3,000 fine - nothing compared to the US$3.3 billion he embezzled, according to the Superior Audit Office. Prosecutors, however, only managed to get evidence for US$880 million.
He was also required to hand in 21 land plots he owns in the state of Campeche and 20 other real estate properties, including luxury apartments and a whole building in Mexico City.
Felipe de Jesus Muñoz Vazquez, deputy attorney general, confirmed Duarte’s sentence on Thursday morning, as social media blew up after the verdict.
“It’s nine years, and he could get benefits in four years and a half,” including the year and a half he has spent already in prison.
Muñoz also declared that the prosecuting office is not “satisfied with the sentence,” even though it was the PGR itself negotiating the deal with Duarte.
“We’re never satisfied when dealing with cases like this, but the law orders benefits,” he said.
By law, Duarte will be able to request liberty under supervision after serving half his sentence, starting from the moment of his detention in 2017.
As accusations against him accumulated and his arrest was imminent, Duarte voluntarily left office in October 2016 and fled to Guatemala after being expelled from the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). He was arrested in April 2017 at a hotel in Panajachel, on the shores of Lake Atitlan, and extradited shortly after.
But the current governor of Veracruz, Miguel Angel Yunes, said in a press conference that even if Duarte leaves prison early, he’s still facing charges in the state of Veracruz, including abuse of authority, failing to comply with his legal responsibilities, embezzlement, forced disappearance and influence peddling.
Yunes demanded Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry (SRE) “speed up the procedure for the government of Guatemala to authorize forced disappearance charges against Javier Duarte, which started last May.” Being arrested in the Central American country, the case has turned into an international legal entanglement that has hindered the process.
“Many years will pass before Duarte leaves prison,” said Yunes, explaining that Duarte has two state arrest orders against him.
“Obviously the sentence satisfies no one, there’s a lot of outrage,” he continued. “That doesn’t make it better for the thousands of people of Veracruz because he stole billions of pesos intended for health programs, education, infrastructure.”
Duarte’s wife, Karime Macias, currently lives in a luxury apartment in London and Yunes hopes she too will soon be extradited on fraud charges. There’s already a red alert from Interpol and both governments are aware of her movements, but the SRE has been unwilling to carry on with the process.
Ivan Gidi, head of the National Anti-Corruption Organization, also said the sentence was nothing compared to what Duarte did.
“It’s a pat on the back compared to the damage done,” said Gidi.
Representative Martha Tagle declared the sentence was “a joke" following orders of President Enrique Peña Nieto, and said that “at this pace, we will have to ask him for forgiveness.”
The people of Veracruz were already outraged by the charges and not being able to judge him for stealing billions, acquiring fake or expired cancer treatment for children, abusing of authority or fostering press censorship by violent means.
At least 17 journalists were murdered in Veracruz under Duarte’s administration (2010-2016), and three others are still missing. The guild organized to demand freedom of the press and blamed the governor’s repressive policies. Duarte used to throw parties and give expensive gifts to loyal journalists, but showed an iron hand for those who criticized him.
Duarte's case became emblematic of government failure to root out corruption and undermined support for the PRI, which has been Mexico's dominant party for most of the past century.
Elected governor in 2010, he is alleged to have acquired luxury properties in Mexico and abroad, defrauding taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars, and using shell companies to transfer and hide public funds.