'The Black Widow case': the murder that exposes one of the largest money laundering networks in Mexico

The Black Widow Affair a rigorous journalistic investigation narrated as a thriller police and published by Grijalbo, dedicates its pages to exploring the secrets behind the murder of Isaac Gamboa Lozano, a close collaborator of Luis Videgaray in the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, which occurred just in May 2020. Behind the murder lies a political plot much more complex that connects with the Sapphire operation, one of the most relevant corruption cases of Enrique Peña Nieto’s six-year term: a huge network of ghost companies with which around 5,800 million pesos were laundered, money that, in part, was into the pockets of Gamboa himself and his wife, Bethzabee Brito. The other, to finance PRI political campaigns.

The testimony of Jazmín, a woman who allegedly participated in the operation, points to Brito as the instigator of the massacre, in order to flee with her lover. The Morelos Prosecutor’s Office maintains the same hypothesis: Bethzabee Brito planned the murder together with her lover, Gamboa’s escort. But, both the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office would have another hypothesis, assuming that Gamboa was not the head of this network, it could have been other people who ordered the massacre and also who fabricated the theory of murder. passional. Who ordered the death of Isaac Gamboa Lozano, a key official of the Ministry of Finance during the Peña Nieto government? To whom was his silence so convenient? Was it a crime of passion or a political one?

Ángel, Raziel and Ureste, investigative reporters for Animal Político, recount the multi-homicide in which Gamboa was murdered.
Ángel, Raziel and Ureste, investigative reporters for Animal Político, recount the multi-homicide in which Gamboa was murdered.Monica Gonzalez Islas

“- To the ground! Everyone get down on the floor!, ordered one of the attackers as soon as they entered the house. Four men entered the subdivision in broad daylight. They didn’t pick locks or threaten anyone. They just walked in. They drew guns. And they began to kill. The first to fall was Isaac Gamboa Lozano.” This is how the book written by journalists Zedryk Raziel, Manu Ureste and Arturo Ángel begins, with a prologue by Gabriela Warkentin, who affirms that the investigation is “much more than the count of murders, (un)loving relationships, complicities, corruption, injustices and impunities; it is an x-ray that, from the local point of view, exhibits the rottenness of a system that protects itself and reproduces itself, that does everything to avoid dying. Including killing.”

Gamboa’s murder is the tip of the iceberg from The Black Widow Affair a new journalistic story about how corruption is woven in Mexico; a new investigation that explains the rottenness of a perfectly meshed system carefully protected by impunity. “Some armed subjects enter a residence near Cuernavaca, in a wealthy neighborhood and, in broad daylight, as if they were bringing a supermarket list, they select which people to assassinate. They choose five of them; They went directly against Isaac Gamboa and continued against his two brothers; They kill everyone there and leave. Cold-blooded; with tremendous coldness”, explains Arturo Ángel, one of the authors of the book in an interview with EL PAÍS. “Although Isaac Gamboa’s public office was low profile, his importance was fundamental. His signature was worth hundreds of millions. He was a key character in a network of diversion of public resources; his name had already come out in journalistic investigations documenting the Operation Sapphire where through Treasury money, went down money to states governed by the PRI, under a fund in charge of Gamboa, and that money was diverted to ghost companies, for a change, for electoral purposes, ”explains the head of information for Animal Politico. In the call Operation Sapphire public funds were diverted from Chihuahua, Sonora, Colima, Durango, the State of Mexico, Morelos and Milpa Alta, in Mexico City, to finance PRI electoral campaigns. In the plot, 12 ghost companies were used that were ‘shielded’ by the Tax Administration Service (SAT). These seven states diverted 650 million pesos.

Zedryk Raziel, Manu Ureste and Arturo Ángel borrowed for their book the name of the investigation that Santiago Nieto used during his tenure in the Financial Intelligence Unit: black widow. In it, Bethzabee Brito appears at the center of a web dedicated to extracting public resources in exorbitant amounts; while her husband, Isaac Gamboa, as director of the Budget Policy and Control Unit of the Ministry of Finance, was in charge of falsifying agreements, inventing contracts and extorting authorities to squeeze resources. Both characters, check the reporters, were rich. “In this investigation we document its multiple properties; some in exclusive neighborhoods. The couple had 18 houses. A wealth that does not correspond to the profile of a public official. We managed to prove that there is an enormous heritage”, explains Arturo Ángel. “We started by investigating three companies that sent money not only to Gamboa, but also to his wife. In addition, there were real estate operations. There the alerts come off: there is something more than a multi-homicide. We started believing that there were 60 million pesos diverted and we found more than 5,800 million. A huge money laundering network. We investigated the companies, dozens of them, we went looking for them. They were lenders who lived in a housing unit in Tlalnepantla, who clearly did not have the socioeconomic profile of a company that moves billions of pesos,” explains Manu Ureste in an interview with this newspaper.

Black Widow Case book cover
Black Widow Case book coverMonica Gonzalez Islas

The investigation, which took more than a year, dozens of requests for transparency, trips to Chihuahua, Morelos and more than 40,000 pesos in requests to the public property registry, began with a USB memory that someone of the Ministry of Finance by carelessness or intentionally handed over to a collaborator of Political Animal. “We do not know if there was a guardian angel in the Ministry of Finance. The then head of information told us that he went to a meeting at the dependency offices. They wanted to share some files with him and he didn’t have a USB. They grab one, without apparently knowing its content, they pass it to him and when he gets to his computer he realizes that in the memory there are documents of cases in progress, one of them was the black widow case”, Zedryk Raziel tells EL PAÍS. Daniel Moreno, director of the Mexican media, told them: “This case has a lot of potential.” “He saw the germ of a great story. He saw all the ingredients of the book: a murder, the corruption, the complicities…”, says Raziel. In Mexico, the PRI is known to divert money. It’s no secret. Operation Sapphire He came to document how the corruption machinery operated and put figures to the idea that has lived for years among Mexican citizens. The black widow case speaks of the magnitude of this mechanism that took on obscene dimensions during Enrique Peña Nieto’s six-year term, where one of the protagonists, in addition to the president himself, is Luis Videgaray, a graduate in Economics from the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM) and a Doctor of Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The former official left his position as a professor at the University of Massachusetts and went to Israel, after, in June 2021, the Mexican government disqualified him for 10 years. “Luis Videgaray has been singled out, throughout this six-year term, as the person who pulled the strings and ordered the money deliveries. The director of Pemex himself has pointed it out several times. At the time, the Prosecutor’s Office tried to accuse him before a judge of deviations and even treason against the country. Both in the matter of Odebrecht and that of the Master Fraud, as in the deviations of Veracruz, the name of Videragay has always come up. It seems hard to believe that this cluster of irregularities occurred without his knowledge. We would have to believe that he was an extremely incompetent person or that he did not know what was going on and was guilty of criminal negligence. The murder of such a close collaborator; regardless of who killed him and why, it causes a key token in the fabric to be lost. An essential collaborating witness. But, you can continue investigating: his wife and his family can contribute very valuable information to the case, ”says Arturo Ángel.

Thanks to journalism, we are getting to know more and more about the network of corruption headed by Peña Nieto. Investigations such as the White House — a case recently filed by the Mexican justice system: the former officials accused of losing the file on the former president’s mansion and his ex-wife must apologize for negligence and do social service —, La Estafa Maestra, Odebrecht, the Operation Sapphire and now The Black Widow Affair they show, with more and more detail, the monumental embezzlement. “Journalism has done its part, but there seems to be not so much correspondence from the authority. We must continue to investigate the case of homicide, “the authors denounce.

For now, the call black widow, nickname given to Mrs. Bethzabee Brito Álvarez, is still in prison. She went from a local jail to a federal prison. but there are others black widowers in power and the most honest thing is to leave the question open of who is the black widow. There is more than one interested in the total silence of Isaac Gamboa and his family.

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