MEXICO CITY (AP) — U.S. federal prosecutors have filed suit in a district court in Texas to seize almost $2.8 million in a Bermuda bank account allegedly controlled by a former acting governor of the Mexican border state of Coahuila.
The suit alleges the money came from embezzlement or theft of government funds by Jorge Juan Torres Lopez, who served as interim governor of the scandal-wracked state of Coahuila for much of 2011.
Torres Lopez denied wrongdoing in an email to The Associated Press sent Thursday from an address he has used to contact local media in the past. The email did not include a telephone number and could not be independently verified.
"I categorically deny having committed any crime of this type," the ex-official wrote. "I will defend myself legally against this accusation and I will demonstrate the legality of these funds, which are my personal wealth and that of my family, obtained over a lifetime of work."
But the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas says that Torres Lopez tried to move the money out of the account at the Old Mutual of Bermuda bank to an account in Germany, two weeks after U.S. federal prosecutors announced a similar seizure suit against another former Coahuila official, Hector Javier Villarreal, a former state treasurer who is wanted on money laundering charges.
Torres Lopez was acting governor in Coahuila in 2011, serving out the final year of the term of former Gov. Humberto Moreira. Moreira himself resigned as national head of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party after revelations surfaced about the state's ballooning debt.
The scandal widened to involve apparent embezzlement of government funds by state officials who allegedly obtained fraudulent loans under the state's name.
The lawsuit details how Torres Lopez gave odd answers to bankers at JP Morgan Chase when he set up an account in Texas in 2008, allegedly to wire money from Mexico and then channel it into the offshore account in Bermuda. At the time, Torres Lopez had just left his post as Coahuila's finance secretary and was serving as mayor of the Coahuila city of Saltillo.
"Torres specifically asked one of the JP Morgan Chase bankers if wire transfers could be deleted from the system so that no transfer would be seen going from Mexico to Bermuda through the United States," according to the suit, which also noted that "during the opening procedures of the above-mentioned accounts, Torres gave bankers at JP Morgan Chase several different explanations regarding the source of his income."
For example, Torres Lopez claimed to be the "owner of Cemex," a well-known, multinational, publicly-traded building materials company that is not even based in Coahuila. "Torres never produced any documentation to JP Morgan Chase showing Cemex as a source of funds," according to the suit.
Torres Lopez began wiring huge amounts — in a few days in early 2008 he received three wire transfers in Mexican pesos totaling over $2.5 million — and became "extremely angry" when statements for a transaction were sent to his address in Mexico. "Torres told the banker that Torres was a public official and could not have details on Defendant (Bermuda) property disclosed in Mexico or to the public."
A few months later, JP Morgan Chase became so concerned about the large transfers that they closed Torres Lopez' bank account.
In an interview with a U.S. federal agent in August 2012, Torres Lopez denied having any money outside of two small accounts in the United States and accounts in Mexico. "Torres explained that his 'entrepreneur' business was involved in manufacturing," but "Torres could not explain the nature of the manufacturing business," according to the complaint.
JP Morgan Chase did not immediately respond to queries about why the bank did not detect the inconsistencies from the outset.
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