Chivis Martinez Borderland Beat TY MMD778 Vancouver Sun
|Mansur looking over Duarte right shoulder—-From Reforma|
It was August 2016 and wealthy Mexican businessman Moises Mansur Cysneiros was in Vancouver, exploring whether to move his family here for “a different cultural experience.”
He got a call from his Mexican tax lawyer, Jose Juan Janeiro Rodriguez, urging Mansur to fly to Toronto “to discuss certain tax matters in person.”
When Mansur arrived in the Ontario capital, he was surprised to learn that the newly elected governor of the Mexican state of Veracruz — Miguel Angel Yunes — had flown in on a private jet for the meeting.
Yunes wanted dirt on his predecessor, Mansur’s close friend Javier Duarte, who had embezzled millions in state funds, then pumped it into shell companies that were used to buy luxury properties for himself.
At the Toronto meeting, Yunes gave Mansur “handwritten notes, indicating his request for him to cooperate in bringing down Duarte,” according to a recent Canadian immigration board ruling obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
“The notes indicated that Yunes was only interested in Duarte and wanted Duarte to go to jail and that if (Mansur) cooperated, he would face no issues. Otherwise, Yunes would use all of his power against him as well.”
After Mansur read the notes, Yunes took them back, “tore them up and placed the scraps in his pocket.”
Mexican corruption case reverberates in Vancouver
Three and a half years later, Duarte has been convicted of money laundering and having criminal associations. He is serving a nine-year sentence. His tax lawyer has become a prosecution witness in Mexico. And Mansur is fighting to stay in Vancouver, pleading his innocence on charges of tax fraud, tax evasion, organized crime and money laundering based on allegations he was Duarte’s frontman.
Mansur says his life would be in danger if he returns to his homeland. Or that he could be kidnapped by corrupt Mexican officials if he moves to Brazil, where he also holds citizenship.
But an Immigration and Refugee Board member, Negar Azmudeh, recently ruled that Mansur is not a convention refugee because of the allegations against him in Mexico.
She accepted arguments by lawyers for the Minister of Public Safety, who said the charges against Mansur were so serious that he should not be eligible for refugee status here.
Mansur is alleged to have assisted Duarte — his buddy since both were in law school — by purchasing properties on the governor’s behalf. Mansur “managed an extensive portfolio of companies developing real estate (and) acted as a front or straw man for Duarte to hide assets acquired through corruption,” the minister’s lawyers argued to the immigration board.
He even “named Duarte as the beneficiary of his will and had also given Duarte’s wife Karim a credit card.”
Mansur has filed an appeal of Azmudeh’s decision, his lawyer Frances Mahon confirmed to the Sun. She said she was “not aware of any request” by Mexico for her client’s extradition. She also said Mansur was not available for an interview. He is believed to be in Vancouver.
A Department of Justice public affairs officer, Ian McLeod, said he couldn’t comment on whether Mexico wanted Mansur sent back for trial. “As extradition requests are confidential state-to-state communications, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of a request,” McLeod said.
The immigration board ruling came 19 months after a secret Vancouver hearing at which several Mexican witnesses flew in and testified on Mansur’s behalf. He, too, took the stand, to argue that he is a victim of persecution in a country with a long history of politicians charging and imprisoning their rivals.
The Sun fought for over a year to gain access to information about Mansur’s refugee claim.
Finally in February 2020, Azmudeh released her heavily redacted 37-page decision. There are bans on all the witnesses’ names, with the exception of Mansur’s.
Some of the details in the ruling read like scenes from the hit Netflix series Narcos: Mexico, laying out an incredible tale of systemic corruption, clandestine meetings and even threats.
Veracruz attorney general sent to Vancouver meeting
About a month after the 2016 Toronto meeting, Mansur heard from his tax lawyer again. He was told Yunes had sent Veracruz’s attorney general, Jorge Winckler, and another man to Vancouver to meet Mansur.
|Suspended Veracruz Attorney General Jorge Winckler (left) and Veracruz governor Miquel Angel Yunes. JORGE WINCKLER ORTIZ / TWITTER/PNG|
“In that meeting, Mr. Winckler stated that he was seeing (Mansur) in person on Yunes’s instructions and renewed Yunes’s demand to sign over his assets in Veracruz to the state and that he would regret it later if he did not,” the ruling summarized. “He also advised the claimant that Yunes had video-recorded his meeting.”
Parts of the surreptitious recording, in which Mansur appears to make incriminating statements, were later broadcast on a popular Mexican television show hosted by journalist Carlos Loret.
When Mansur testified to the refugee board in 2018, he said “that Yunes’s actions amount to intimidation and extortion.”
Yunes’s term ended in December 2018, but Mansur said he was still at risk because the former governor had already “unleashed a system against him that is no longer limited to Yunes.”
He testified that Winckler, the attorney general who flew to Vancouver, was still in power and “is interested in harming the claimant on Yunes’s behalf.”
But since Mansur’s testimony, Winckler himself has been suspended from office after allegations were made against him last year. He also proclaimed his innocence and said the charges were politically motivated.
Both Winckler and his close friend Yunes are from the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. Mansur’s jailed friend Duarte, the ex-governor, is with the rival Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, which has been accused of corruption for decades.
When the populist left-wing National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was elected president in 2018, he promised to tackle corruption. It was the first time a Mexican president had been elected from a party other than the PAN or PRI since 1929.
And Mexicans were hopeful there might finally be a change, according to Stephen Morris, of Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy.
Morris, who has studied corruption in Mexico for decades, said from Mexico City that some of that optimism after Obrador’s election has already faded, with polls showing the public’s confidence in his anticorruption measures “going back down.”
He said you have to look at the historical context. Every new Mexican government “promises to fight corruption” while accusing its predecessor of being corrupt.
“They haul out new reforms and prosecute some people from the former regime and bring a lot of attention to what they are doing in fighting corruption,” said Morris, who is currently a researcher at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
“Quite often the government wants quick fixes that you can broadcast and that has a strong media impact. But in a lot of cases dealing with corruption, it can’t be done that way.”
The further into a new government’s term, the more the fight against systemic corruption seems to slip away and the “historic cycle” begins again, Morris said.
Corruption allegations and a Swiss bank account
One of Mexico’s most high-profile corruption cases involved Raul Salinas, brother of Carlos Salinas, a former PRI president. In October 1998, the Swiss government seized $90 million from Raul’s bank account, alleging it was cartel money paid for protecting drug shipments into the U.S. But Raul was eventually cleared of “illicit enrichment” charges in 2014.
Morris said that historically it’s been “difficult to tell whether what the government is doing is valid and in the name of justice or it’s actually part of the same corruption that they claim to be fighting.”
“The cases are tremendous going all the way back to and even before that of Salinas’s brother.”
He said Raul Salinas made the same claim Mansur is now making: That the case against him consisted of “politically trumped up charges — or, in current lingo, a hoax — despite the fact that many of us actually saw displayed some evidence like false passports and that type of thing.”
(Salinas also won an appeal in 2005 of a murder conviction related to a 1994 hit on his one-time brother-in-law, a former PRI official.)
Morris said the evidence against Duarte, involving the embezzlement of more than $7 million U.S. that was put into fake companies to buy properties in the U.S., Spain and Mexico, appeared “to be quite strong.”
“There can really be no doubt here that Duarte and his people were involved in all of this,” Morris said. “Duarte of course claims that this was all a set-up and a political vendetta. That’s what they always say.”
|Suspended Veracruz Attorney General Jorge Winckler standing in front of El Faunito — a ranch that is one of the properties Javier Duarte had to forfeit back to the state. JORGE WINCKLER ORTIZ / TWITTER/PNG|
During Duarte’s six-year term, cartel violence was rampant in the Gulf Coast state. And Veracruz became the most dangerous place in Mexico for journalists. Seventeen were killed there.
Morris said often corrupt politicians have ties to organized crime because they need the connection to help them launder cash.
Mansur may have chosen to make his refugee claim in Canada instead of the U.S. because of some of the recent high-profile American prosecutions like that of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel, Morris said.
“Those trials have created the impression that you don’t want to go to the United States and get tried in the United States. I think they might see Canada as an easier situation legally in terms of immigration and in terms of trying to fight the charges,” he said.
Mansur is not the only Mexican accused of money laundering who has faced the scrutiny of Canadian officials after landing in Vancouver.
In March 2019, Mexican businessman Sergio Antonio Reyes Garcia was interrogated by the Canada Border Services Agency when he arrived at Vancouver International Airport with his family. The CBSA agent alleged Reyes Garcia and his business partner Manuel Barreiro had been misusing a B.C. company they formed to move cash from Mexico to a Swiss bank.
“What connects you to Manuel is a money-laundering scandal in Mexico,” CBSA agent Rahim Bajwa said to Reyes Garcia, who claimed the allegations against them were false and politically motivated.
He said they were targeted because Barreiro had done business with the PAN presidential candidate, Ricardo Anaya, who lost the 2018 election to Obrador, the current president.
|Image Added to original post|
The agent cancelled Reyes Garcia’s electronic travel authorization to visit Canada. But the Mexican national took his case to the Federal Court of Canada and in January won a judicial review of the CBSA decision. [Chivis Note: read judgment and reasons using this hyperlink)]
Since Canada removed a visa requirement for Mexicans to travel here on Dec. 1, 2016, the number of refugee claimants from the country has skyrocketed.
Immigration and Refugee Board statistics show that in 2015, there were just 111 Mexicans who made applications for refugee protection in Canada. In 2019, that had jumped to 5,634 refugee claims from Mexicans, second only to the number of claims made by Indians.
So far, only 602 of last year’s claimants have been accepted. Another 1,045 have been rejected, while 672 of the claims were either abandoned or withdrawn. The rest are outstanding.
RCMP warned family about a possible threat
In July 2018, when Mansur testified at his refugee hearing, he recounted a 2017 visit at his Vancouver home from the RCMP. The officers told him they had received intelligence about a possible threat to his family and suggested they move out of their home for a few days.
Though the RCMP “never revealed the nature of the threat they were facing,” Mansur said he believed it “must have been related to Yunes.”
But even that disturbing detail didn’t sway the immigration board’s Azmudeh. She said Mansur was merely speculating on who was behind the threat.
“There is also insufficient credible evidence at hand to conclude that Yunes or anyone else in Mexico has tried to resort to extrajudicial means of intimidating or harming the claimants in Canada.”
She said it was not ultimately her role to determine whether Mansur is guilty or innocent of the charges he faces in Mexico. But she noted that while Mansur has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, neither he nor his witnesses provided any documents about the suspicious land deals that could have exonerated him.
“The complainants did not present sufficient credible evidence to resolve the obligation but there are serious reasons for considering that the … land was acquired as a means of a complex scheme of money laundering,” Azmudeh said. “My duty is limited to find whether the minister has raised sufficient credible evidence to establish that there are serious reasons for considering that (Mansur) has committed fraud and/or money laundering and I find that they have discharged their burden.”
TIMELINE: Allegations against Moises Mansur Cysneiros
- May 2016: Mexican news site Animal Politico does an exposé on Veracruz governor Javier Duarte for embezzling millions from his government, used to set up shell companies to buy real estate. His friend Moises Mansur Cysneiros was named as an alleged accomplice.
- August 2016: Mansur lands in Vancouver, claiming he wants a new cultural experience for his family. But a political opponent flies in to pressure him to turn on Duarte. He later claims refugee status.
- October 2016: Organized crime charges are laid against Duarte and his alleged accomplices, but he has already fled Mexico on a government helicopter. Mansur is also eventually charged.
- April 2017: Duarte is arrested in Guatemala and faces an extradition hearing. He’s sent to Mexico in July 2017 for trial.
- July 2018: Mansur has an in camera refugee hearing in Vancouver that lasts eight days. He testifies that the charges against him are politically motivated and that he will be harmed if he returns to Mexico. Lawyers for Canada’s Public Safety Minister argue that he should be excluded due to money laundering and organized crime allegations.
- September 2018: Duarte strikes a plea deal and is sentenced to nine years in jail on two of the counts he faced, money laundering and criminal association.
- January 2020: An immigration board member rules Mansur is excluded because of the charges he faces in Mexico. He is appealing and remains in Vancouver.
- February 2020: The immigration board releases a heavily redacted copy of its decision on Mansur after an application by The Vancouver Sun.