Follow the Money to Citibank
by Antonio Jaquez
Proceso (liberal newsmagazine), Mexico City,
Mexico, March 25, 2001
World Press Review June 2001
On the morning of March 1, 1995, there was panic on the 17th
floor of the Citicorp-Citibank building in New York City. Alarmed
Citibank executives read the top story on the front pages of that
day's newspapers: Raul Salinas de Gortari [brother of former Mexican
President Carlos Salinas de Gortari] had been arrested the day
before in Mexico. They knew it was only a matter of time before
investigators would arrive and begin to ask questions about the
deposits made by Raul Salinas at Citibank.
Around that time, Citibank of New York was transferring Juarez
drug cartel money to Uruguay and Argentina, where Mexican drug
lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes and his associates went calmly about
their business, with help from local politicians and businessmen.
Not long after, investigations would reveal that in 1998-99, more
than $300 million belonging to Mexican drug traffickers went through
These converging events are the crux of Ojos vendados (Blindfolded)
by Andres Oppenheimer [published by Plaza & Janes], which
digs deep into the role of transnational corporations and the
U.S. government in corruption scandals in Latin America.
[In a telephone interview from Buenos Aires, where he presented
his book on March 22] Oppenheimer says the thesis emerging from
these histories is that the fight against corruption must be globalized.
In other words, "Mexico can establish all the commissions
it wants....But if Raul Salinas can go to Citibank of New York
and deposit $120 million without being asked any uncomfortable
questions, there will be no end to corruption."
He is confident, however, that things are improving. "The
scandal that erupted from the millions...deposited by Raul Salinas
forced Citibank to adopt radical measures....Today it's not very
likely that Citibank would accept huge deposits from a brother
of a Mexican politician. So, there's progress, and I hope there
will be more."
Ojos vendados may read like a novel, but it is based on reliable
documents and testimonies gathered in five countries over a four-year
period. In addition to tying up loose ends and reconstructing
events, the book contains some revelations. One is that U.S. district
attorneys extended the inquiry into the Raul Salinas-Citibank
connection by two years, with the objective of presenting criminal
charges against the bank. And, among U.S. Senate papers, Oppenheimer
found evidence of a $20 million deposit by Carlos Salinas.
According to testimony by Juan Miguel Ponce Edmonson, head
of Mexico's Interpol, Argentina's federal police had been alerted
in June 1997 that Eduardo Gonzalez Quirarte [one of Carrillo's
lieutenants] was in Buenos Aires. "From that moment on,"
narrates Oppenheimer, "Mexico bombarded Argentine authorities
with requests to help locate Mexican drug traffickers in the country...[but]
Argentine authorities did not do much"- whether from lack
of interest or, as Ponce suspects, because the Argentine government
did not want the presence of drug traffickers to become public.
The suspicion was corroborated years later, when the U.S.
investigation "Operation Casablanca" revealed that [money
from] the Juarez cartel entered Argentina through two Citibank
accounts and others in shell banks [in the Cayman Islands and
the Bahamas]. Ponce, for his part, took advantage of Operation
Casablanca to explore the vein of Juarez cartel allies in Argentina.
He claims to have discovered documents in Mexico proving that
large contributions were made by the cartel to 1999 campaign in
Argentina of [Peronist presidential and vice presidential candidates]
Eduardo Duhalde and Ramon "Palito" Ortega.
In late 2000, the U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating Citibank
received information from Argentine legislators. They claimed
"a gigantic political-financial conspiracy involving even
Citibank President John Reed."
In the last part of Ojos vendados, entitled "Salinas'
Loot," the author describes the Raul Salinas-Citibank connection
in full, revealing the bank's maneuvers to protect itself and
its client Salinas after his arrest. When he started digging at
Citibank, Oppenheimer came upon the "political accounts"
section, with some 40,000 clients. These accounts belonged to
current and former government officials from Latin America, Asia,
and Africa and had been classified to be overseen with special
Among the longest-standing Mexican clients is the family of
Carlos Hank Gonzolez [former governor of the state of Mexico,
accused of links to drug trafficking]. Oppenheimer writes that
"accounts belonging to the Hank family at Citibank branches
in New York and San Diego had already reached a level of $42.8
million by 1988." A few years later, during the Raul Salinas
scandal, [son] Carlos Hank Rohn had $138 million in Citibank London.
It was no accident that he was known within the bank as Confidential
Client No. 1 or CC1. CC2 was Raul Salinas, with a balance calculated
at $1 billion. Another old client was Gerardo de Prevoisin, president
of Aeromexico airlines, "who would later flee the country
amid accusations that he had stolen $72 million."
According to Oppenheimer, "the battle for globalizing
the fight against corruption is only beginning. There's still
a great deal to be done-getting rid of legal gaps, for example.
The Senate subcommittee has thrown its pebble into the water-to
create a ripple effect-and we journalists are throwing in ours,