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SCANDAL: Head of Mexico’s FIU forced to resign after $35,000 cash is found on private jet carrying guests to his wedding

By AMLi Correspondent

The head of Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) has been forced to resign following a scandal related to his wedding in Guatemala.

Santiago Nieto (pictured), long seen as a trusted ally of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in his campaign to root out corruption, stepped down from the position on Monday.

It came after Guatemalan authorities seized $35,000 in cash from a private jet carrying influential guests to Nieto’s wedding to Carla Humphrey, a counsellor with Mexico’s National Electoral Institute (INE), in the city of Antigua.

Wedding guest Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz, the president of the prominent Mexican newspaper El Universal, had been carrying the cash. A column in the newspaper on Monday said the money was for medical treatment and had been properly declared to Mexican officials.

Nevertheless the optics of the situation – private planes, lavish foreign weddings and bags of cash – had done their damage, Lopez Obrador said upon accepting the resignation.

“It is a scandalous matter, even when it is a private event … public matters in Mexico are increasingly public and more is known about private matters,” Lopez Obrador said.

The president was elected in 2018 on a campaign focused on cracking down on corruption in the country but has been criticised for focusing more on his public image than adequately addressing the myriad issues facing the country.

Since taking office, Lopez Obrador has cultivated a persona of obsessive austerity, often flying commercial, trying to sell the presidential jet, and refusing to live in the palatial former presidential residence.

Paola Felix, the secretary of tourism for Mexico City, also found herself caught up in the wedding drama.

She too resigned from her post following media reports that she was detained at a Guatemalan airport, reportedly on her way to the wedding, for trying to illegally carry a large amount of cash into the country. She has denied wrongdoing.

Longtime progressive politician Pablo Gomez is set to take over Nieto’s role.

Said John Cusack, chair of the Global Coalition Fighting Financial Crime: “So Mexico’s Head FIU takes a private plane to go to his wedding in Guatemala and takes buddies with him or vice versa – one is the President of a newspaper in Mexico who is taking US$35000 in cash, which was apparently declared when leaving Mexico but wasn’t declared when arriving in Guatemala.

“The resignation isn’t it seems just because of the cash and the acts of third parties but because the President is on a personal austerity drive and isn’t flying on private jets and doesn’t live in the palace so this looks bad and is embarrassing. According to the newspaper in Mexico the cash was for US medical bills,” added Cusack. 

Cusack had a number of questions, including: “Why fly to Guatemala with US$35,000 in cash for US medical bills when it’s easier to wire transfer it? Why put the cash in seven different envelopes full of US$50 bills hidden in a black suitcase? Why declare the cash when leaving Mexico but not declare it when arriving in Guatemala? Beats me!”

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