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News > Latin America

Panama Papers Unmask Mexican Billionaires in Offshore Schemes

  • Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego has set up offshore holdings with Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

    Mexican billionaire Ricardo Salinas Pliego has set up offshore holdings with Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 May 2016

Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim, one of the richest people in the world, could be implicated in shady offshore dealings.

The latest data drop of the Panama Papers on Monday has revealed that two of Mexico’s richest business moguls, billionaires Carlos Slim and Ricardo Salinas Pliego, have been involved in hiding their wealth in tax havens through offshore shell companies set up through the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Panama Papers

Salinas Pliego, among the top 400 wealthiest people in the world according to Forbes, with a net worth of US$4.3 billion, is directly named in the Panama Papers as the owner of an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands under the name Felicitas Holdings Limited.

The billionaire has built his Grupo Salinas empire through Mexican telecommunications, financial services and retail businesses, including TV Azteca, Elektra, and Banco Azteca, among others. He is said to have close ties to President Enrique Peña Nieto and former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who despite sharing the same last name is not a relative.

Salinas Pliego benefited from the privatization wave under Salinas de Gortari, particularly through the acquisition of TV Azteca, formerly a state broadcaster known as Imevision. The billionaire has never faced charges, but has been accused of being involved in shady dealings in the privatization process.

Pliego was the fourth-richest person in Mexico in 2015, but his listed wealth has since dropped.

Another benefactor of the neoliberal privatization era and Salinas Pliego’s fortune, Carlos Slim, is also suspected of ties to the Panama Papers, though his name has not appeared directly in the data leak.

Panama Papers in Latin America: 8 Key Facts We Know so Far

Slim, the fourth-richest person in the world according to Forbes’ 2016 global billionaires list, with a net worth of US$50 billion, is the owner of Latin America’s biggest mobile service America Movil as well the telecommunications company Telmex, a formerly state-owned monopoly privatized under the Salinas de Gortari government in the early 1990’s.

The Panama Papers database, released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, lists three offshore entities by the name of Telmex: Telmex Resources Limited, Telmex Resources Ltd., and Telmex Resources Corp. The bearers of the three tax haven companies are undisclosed in the leak, connected only to intermediaries based in Switzerland and Panama.

Slim was previously linked to the Panama Papers when the massive data dump went public last month. According to a report by Aristegui Noticias, one of the news organizations involved in reporting the leak, Slim was implicated in a tax evasion scheme in his acquisition of transmission rights for over 250 films from Mexico’s Golden Age that allowed the sellers to dodge taxes on their earnings by passing the deal through an offshore shell company.

The new leak further implicated Mexico’s elite in offshore schemes after the so-called “favorite contractor” of President Enrique Peña Nieto, Juan Armando Hinojosa, was found in the first data dump to have hidden US$100 million of his wealth in a complex offshore network after being implicated in a corruption scandal involving the first lady’s mansion.

Hinojosa has been accused of paying bribes to Peña Nieto and other top Mexican officials in exchange for key contracts.

High-Profile Banks Drawn into Panama Papers Scandal After Leak

In total, the latest round of Panama Papers detail more than 300 new names of Mexican individuals and 68 offshore companies, including at least five members of the Zabalegui family. Gonzalez Zabelgui is the owner of national supermarket chain, Comercial Mexicana, while Alejandro Gonzalez Zabalegui is a board member of major mexican bank, Banamex.

The Ruiz Anitua family, who own hotels, restaurants and apartments on the Gulf Coast state, also find themselves on the list. In 2012, they were accused of receiving funds from a federal government program called Procampo, which provides funds to low-income, campesino families.

The Panama Papers database of information on some 320,000 offshore companies and accounts list a total of 68 offshore entities and 289 officers directly associated with Mexico.

However, due to the complex and secretive nature of offshore schemes, it is extremely likely that many names of the real owners of accounts have been obscured.

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