"Because it was illegal for churches in Mexico to own land or businesses prior to the 1992 constitutional change, the Vatican used prestanombres, investors who acted in the name of another but kept secret the identity of the principals. Since the constitutional change, the [Roman Catholic] church has set up its own legal financial representation in Tabasco. It is headed by Benedicto de la Cruz Lopez, who, according to El Financiero, [leading Mexican newspaper] has been accused of corruption and narco-trafficking. "
"According to Ruiz Subiaur, the Vatican had for years invested heavily in thousands of acres of banana plantations in the state of Tabasco. Human rights groups have long charged that Indians working on these plantations have been maltreated, beaten and tortured."
From .................... National Catholic Reporter
October 14, 1994
CHURCH ASSETS PROBED IN MEXICO
By BILL and PATTY COLEMAN Special Report Writers
CUERNAVACA, Mexico --Newspaper accounts have implicated [Roman Catholic] church officials - from a local priest to the papal nuncio - in a scandal involving the allegedly illegal banking, agribusiness and money-laundering empire of the now disgraced Mexican financier, Francisco Cabal Peniche.
Some of the charges were contained in a full-page article in El Financiero, leading daily newspaper, in its Oct. 2 edition. The paper said that according to Emmanuel Ruiz Subiaur, director of the Department of Ecclesiastical Relations during the presidency of Miguel de la Madrid (1982-88), the Roman Catholic church invested heavily in several Cabal projects and maintained close contacts with him.
The accused priest, Jacques Chaveriat, fled the country with Cabal when the government closed in on them Sept. 4, according to the article.
Shortly before the press reports were published, Cardinal Ernesto Corripio Ahumada of Mexico City called such talk press "conjecture."
Cabal, only 35 years old, skyrocketed from obscure local businessman to international financial fame during the past five years. His many corporations include one of Mexico's largest banks and the U.S. company Del Monte Fresh Foods.
He was negotiating to purchase Del Monte's other operations as well. Cabal, according to persistent press reports here, is now hiding in Monaco. The Mexican government has charged him with both swindling and money laundering with ties to the cartel of Cali, Colombia.
Among church officials implicated in the scandal is Archbishop Girolamo Prigione, the embattled papal nuncio, who has feuded in recent months with Archbishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of the San Cristobal de las Casas diocese in the southern state of Chiapas. Prigione according to the accounts, is the "inspector" for Vatican assets in Mexico. Chaveriat, a French Marist, is said to have overseen Vatican interests in all of Cabal's ventures. Like Garcia, Chaveriat was a member of the board of directors of various Cabal corporations and a close associate of the nuncio.
These allegations against Prigione come on the heels of a shocking revelation that he met secretly with the infamous Arellano Felix brothers, known drug lords from Tijuana accused as the intellectual authors of the airport assassination of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo of Guadalajara on May 24, 1993.
The brothers were fugitives from justice when the meeting with Prigione took place in December 1993 at the nuncio's residence in Mexico City. This meeting was not revealed for more than a year. Prigione has now acknowledged the meeting but claimed professional and diplomatic immunity.
This strange twist and the fact that Posadas was murdered at the hands of lower-level drug operatives has led many Mexicans to wonder about the church's involvement with the cartels. The new charges by Ruiz Subiaur are sure to add fuel to the fire.
According to Ruiz Subiaur, the Vatican had for years invested heavily in thousands of acres of banana plantations in the state of Tabasco. Human rights groups have long charged that Indians working on these plantations have been maltreated, beaten and tortured.
Tabasco is adjacent to Chiapas where, on Jan. 1 the EZLN, the Zapatista National Liberation Army, launched a revolution on behalf of indigenous people. In late January and early February, according to Ruiz Subiaur, Prigione was in Tabasco "to inspect the properties and investments of the Vatican because of the armed uprising in the neighboring state of Chiapas."
Because it was illegal for churches in Mexico to own land or businesses prior to the 1992 constitutional change, the Vatican used prestanombres, investors who acted in the name of another but kept secret the identity of the principals. Since the constitutional change, the church has set up its own legal financial representation in Tabasco. It is headed by Benedicto de la Cruz Lopez, who, according to El Financiero, has been accused of corruption and narco-trafficking.
In a book about the connections between the Vatican and the now disgraced Cabal, Ruiz Subiaur claims that Cabal, and Vatican officials were making plans to set up courses of study in Mexico for Vatican officials. Vatican officials, in turn, were preparing Cabal to be an official church financial adviser.
Cabal was dominated, according to El Financiero, by Chaveriat, the Vatican connection, who even "recommended when and with whom he would eat." Corripio responded to rumors of the connections between the Vatican and various drug lords by calling a news conference, his first since his mandatory resignation at age 75 was accepted by Rome last week. He called on the press "to report certainties, not conjectures because these ramblings can be dangerous." Corripio made the comments before the charges appeared in the press. Since the charges were published, there has been no official denial from the church. According to reports in Reforma, another national daily newspaper, Corripio was uncharacteristically agitated as he returned time and time again to what he called rumors of church wrong doing. Whether he had in mind only the persistent rumors of church involvement in illegal financial matters or already knew of the revelations of Ruiz Subiaur is unclear.
The prompt acceptance of Corripio's resignation by Rome before the critical meeting of the national bishops' confeRence later this month was seen by some church analysts as a sign of Prigione influence in the Vatican. Whether Prigione will remain powerful following the charges of involvement in illegal financial dealings is being debated here. Some press reports claim that the incoming Mexican president, Ernesto Zedillo, wants Prigione recalled to Rome.
This church scandal could not have come at a more difficult time for Mexico - political assassinations, charges of drug-related intrigue and violent demonstrations already threaten the country's stability.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, secretary-general of the ruling PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, brother-in-law of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and brother of the assistant director of the federal judicial police, was gunned down in broad daylight in the heart of Mexico City.
Ruiz Massieu was the key negotiator in Ernesto Zedillo's attempt to reconcile the ruling PRI party to the changes he deemed necessary to insure stability in Mexico. Press reports claim the investigation into his killing could implicate some high government officials and heads of drug cartels, both groups known to oppose any changes in Mexico's politics. Salinas said the murder of Ruiz Massieu "cut to the heart of the Mexican political system." Government sources indicate that this assassination was one on a list of planned executions. Reforma also reported that an attempt had been made only five days before on the life of Zedillo himself. The Mexican government quickly denied the charge.
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