HomeNewsBriefLost Property? Narco-Asset Seizures in Mexico Face Renewed Challenges
BRIEF

Lost Property? Narco-Asset Seizures in Mexico Face Renewed Challenges

ELITES AND CRIME / 1 OCT 2020 BY KATIE JONES EN

Recent allegations of theft, lost property and institutionalized corruption suggest Andrés Manuel López Obrador's well-publicized auctions of criminal assets are being undermined by a wider misuse of said belongings, hampering efforts to redistribute their value to the Mexican public.

On September 21, Jaime Cárdenas Gracia, the current director of Mexico’s Institute to Return Stolen Goods to the People (Instituto para Devolver al Pueblo lo Robado – IDPR), issued an explosive resignation letter, detailing a string of difficulties plaguing the organization he had overseen for the last three months. He was the second director to resign in under a year.

In his letter, Cárdenas Gracia wrote that he had found "probable administrative irregularities, valuation procedures that (included) jewelry alteration…as well as conduct by public servants contrary to the norms," on assuming his position in June.

SEE ALSO: Narco-Assets for Sale in Mexico: Going, Going, Gone?

The director added that he had since issued a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office concerning the damage of 23 pieces of jewelry the IDPR is currently responsible for, including a white gold necklace that seemingly arrived at the Institute intact but was later found six grams lighter than originally delivered with fake gemstones inserted, according to press reports.

Three days after Cárdenas announced his resignation, El Economista reported it had sent the IDPR an information request regarding assets that may have been lost or stolen under its possession.

The Institute responded by providing a vast inventory of items currently in its "recovery process" and only recognized that 17 liquor bottles had vanished without a trace since being transferred to them for safekeeping.

Overall, the inventory detailed 58,000 items that are currently in said process without any information given as to their whereabouts, including four planes transferred to the organization between 2009 and 2014, 47 cars received from as far back as 2006 and a boat seized over 14 years ago. These were taken by the IDPR's predecessor, the Property Administration and Disposal Service (Servicio de Administración y Enajenación de Bienes - SAE).

Since the IDPR’s inception in January, López Obrador has made efforts to increase transparency surrounding the redistribution of criminal assets in Mexico by holding high profile auctions and using proceeds for social spending, most recently on the nation’s health sector.

InSight Crime Analysis

The sheer quantity of assets linked to organized crime seized by the Mexican state each year provides ample opportunity for their misuse, theft and loss.

While much attention is given to the high-profile auction of mansions, boats, luxury cars and even planes, most of the near 60,000 objects currently in the IDPR’s recovery process are smaller items, including clothing and bottles of liquor, which could easily be overlooked.

Such assets remained in the SAE's possession for years, making their misuse all the more likely, particularly given that Mexico has no centralized auditing system to track or monitor the status of seized goods.

SEE ALSO: Mexico's Criminal Asset Forfeiture Plan Faces Teething Problems

Lost items are registered under the date they were transferred from the Attorney General’s Office to the IDPR but there is no mention of their approximate date of disappearance, according to El Economista.

On top of this, the organization’s apparent ability to skirt around information requests indicates a concerning lack of accountability in a context of wider institutionalized corruption.

The misuse of larger assets and smaller goods alike -- from boats to clothing -- has the potential to add up, possibly restricting López Obrador’s ability to "give back to the Mexican people" through the auction of criminal assets and, consequently, fund a wave of social spending, as originally intended at the IDPR’s inception.

There is, as of yet, no proven indication that the items in IDPR's recovery process have been embezzled, illegally sold off or truly lost. But the fact that a government institution cannot account for the whereabouts of vehicles seized over 15 years ago, coupled with the corruption Cárdenas claims to have seen, raises suspicions.

Other countries have faced similar challenges. Colombia’s Special Assets Corporation (Sociedad de Activos Especiales – SAE) has had to deal with issues associated with misuse, with some items having stayed in its recovery process for up to 30 years, prompting some experts to call for a regionwide solution.

Meanwhile, authorities in Argentina set a positive example, using assets seized from drug traffickers to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Luxury cars formerly belonging to criminals have been used to transport patients and for security patrols while properties seized during criminal raids have been turned into medical facilities.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HOMICIDES / 24 MAR 2021

A bloody ambush on a police unit in the state of Mexico, in which thirteen officials were shot dead, is…

COLOMBIA / 22 DEC 2022

InSight Crime's GameChangers 2022 looks back at the most consequential criminal stories across Latin America this year.

CARTEL OF THE SUNS / 2 MAY 2022

In 2016, two adopted nephews of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro were found guilty of a conspiracy to bring 800 kilograms…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…