AUSTIN, Texas — The United States has seized more than a million dollars from a Swiss bank branch in Texas, alleged to belong to a Mexican official involved in a bribery scheme. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says that the funds were the result of bribes paid by government contractors to Homero De La Garza Tamez, currently the Secretary of Social Development for the Mexican State of Tamaulipas.
In a statement Friday, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said that during Tamez’s time as the director of the state Institute for Housing and Urban Development, he systematically rigged bidding for government contracts.
As director of HUD, Tamez was in charge of awarding contracts for constructing low-income housing, as well as for building and repairing city streets. The complaint alleges that he rigged the process to throw deals to favored contractors, who would then reward him with kickbacks.
According to the statement, “Tamez would receive bribes from the government contractors who received contracts from the state government of Tamaulipas after the government officials would falsify and manipulate the bids during the bidding process,” and that he “received multiple of these types of payments throughout his political career.” The complaint further alleges that Tamez “received these bribes in the forms of cash and bank deposits made into his bank accounts,” ultimately transferred to his bank account in Texas.
The complaint provides detailed allegations about how Tamez laundered the money, sending the dirty money across the border to be laundered through an investment account at a branch of the Swiss bank UBS located in McAllen, Texas. Though the complaint does not allege any wrongdoing against UBS, the Zürich-based bank has been embroiled in numerous other money laundering investigations in recent years.
Although UBS says it has implemented “extensive policies intended to prevent, detect and report money laundering, corruption and terrorist financing,” governments have not always agreed. In the last three years, UBS has been investigated or fined by France, Switzerland, Britain, the United States, and Belgium.
In 2012, UBS-France was fined $13 million for supposedly stalling reforms to stop money laundering, and faces penalties of potentially over $6 billion if it’s found guilty in an ongoing French tax evasion case. Last year, another Swiss bank, HSBC, agreed to pay $1.9 billion for allegedly laundering drug money from Latin American cartels.
In a statement to El Debate, Tamez denied any wrongdoing, saying that the allegations from U.S. prosecutors were “far from reality” and that he “could not rule out” the possibility that his political opponents were behind the claims. In a post to his Facebook page on Monday, he thanked his supporters and alluded to the accusations by saying that, “At times and in different ways, life tests us…Every obstacle is an opportunity for personal growth, and we must thank Him.”
Tamez has not been criminally charged in the United States or Mexico. Under the rules of U.S. asset forfeiture law, the government is allowed to seize money and property it believes was gained unlawfully without convicting the owner of a crime, putting the burden on the accused to prove their property was gained legitimately. Tamez said he had not been contacted by directly by any authorities involved in the case, but he did not say whether the account was in fact his, or if he planned on disputing the forfeiture action.
The seizure was a joint effort of federal, state, and local authorities, as part of an inter-agency task force on organized crime and drug trafficking, including the FBI, IRS, DEA, Homeland Security, and the Texas Attorney General’s Office. The prosecutor for the case is Assistant United States Attorney Julie K. Hampton.
Photo credit: Homero de la Garza Tamez via Facebook.