As rescue teams searched for bodies in a Pemex office building in Mexico City, where an explosion killed at least 32 people on Thursday, Mexico's national oil company is fighting another type of disaster.
According to an investigation filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2008, Pemex officials awarded contracts to German industrial conglomerate Siemens in exchange for hefty bribes from the European company that added up to $2.6 million.
Now, the new Pemex administration, sworn in by Enrique Peña Nieto's government, is determined to revisit the case, arguing in a New York federal court that the bribed officials approved outrageous cost overruns by Siemens that included $17,000 golf clubs and massages.
Pemex was required to pay the Siemens-led consortium an unclear sum that ranges from $280 million to $400 million for those cost overruns. But a Siemens' spokesperson told the Mexican newspaper Milenio that Pemex's efforts to revive the bribery scandal are a way to sidestep the conclusions reached by Mexico's own justice system, which cleared the German company of bribery charges in 2009.
"Pemex has to defend itself," countered Ignacio Durán, a spokesperson for the state-owned Mexican company. He claimed that the new Pemex administration, which began its duties in December of last year, has a "zero tolerance" policy against private and public corruption.
One of the key witnesses in this investigation could be the influential Mexican businessman Jaime Camil Garza, father of the well-known actor Jaime Camil.
According to the S.E.C. investigation, a "politically-connected business consultant" acted as a middleman in the bribery scandal, receiving money from Siemens, and distributing bribery payments to top Pemex officials who had a say in which contracts were awarded to the German company.
Camil Garza, a renowned businessman and socialite who prides himself on having hosted U2's Bono in his Acapulco mansion, was Siemens' representative in Mexico from 1999 to 2004, the years when the payoffs allegedly took place. But in a phone interview with Univision News, Camil Garza denied any involvement in or any knowledge of bribery schemes.
"I can guarantee it to you, just like my name is Jaime Camil, that there is no evidence to determine a crime, and that therefore the file was closed," he said.
Camil Garza was implicated in the case in 2008 after the S.E.C. reached a deal with Siemens in which the German company agreed to pay $1.6 billion for its involvement in bribery schemes in Mexico and elsewhere in the world.
As part of this settlement, the U.S. government agreed to confidentiality provisions that ensured the secrecy of the names of the people involved in the briberies, but that nonetheless offered some relevant leads. The S.E.C. investigation documented dozens of bribes disguised as service payments in Argentina, Venezuela, Vietnam and several other countries.
In Mexico, the S.E.C. identified the person who paid the bribes as a "politically-connected business consultant." According to court documents, Siemens PG and Siemens S.A., a local subsidiary, made three payments totaling almost $2.6 million to that unnamed individual, whose job was to deal with several claims related to cost overruns in three modernization projects of Mexican refineries.
Part of that money was then transferred to a senior Pemex official, who "was in a position to influence the claims," according to the complaint filed in a District of Columbia federal court by the S.E.C. The payments were disguised with invoices for "consulting services that were not provided or [were] only vaguely described."
When Mexican authorities opened their own investigation into the bribes, they eventually focused on the relationship between Siemens and Camil Garza, who had acted as the multinational's representative since 1999.
During the course of the enquiry, federal prosecutors discovered that Camil Garza had received several checks from Siemens that totaled more than $2.5 million dollars. Univision News had access to the checks drawn by Siemens from a BBVA Bancomer account to the name of Jaime Federico Said Camil Garza, the businessman's full name. There is one check deposited on October 2004 for $10.8 million pesos (approx. $860,000); and two checks deposited on December 2004 for $8.1 (approx. $730,000), and $10.5 million pesos (approx. $945,000).
The payments were justified by Siemens as representation fees for Camil Garza's services per a contract signed in 1999. The original document, subscribed by Camil Garza and Hans Georg Pauli, then Siemens' CEO in Mexico, reflected that Camil Garza's main responsibility was to represent the German company and to promote its sales in the country. In a phone interview with Univision News, Camil Garza acknowledged that he was the anonymous "politically connected business consultant" alluded to in the S.E.C. lawsuit.
"Of course it was me," he said. "I was the representative after many years with Siemens."
He also admitted that he received the checks mentioned above, but he said earned that money as part of his work as Siemens' representative in Mexico, and was not used for bribes.
"The numbers of the checks are there," he said. "There is one for 10 [million pesos], another for a bit more than 10, and another for eight that are perfectly audited."
Camil Garza said that said that the payments given to him by Siemens had been investigated by Mexican prosecutors, who established over the course of four years that there was no evidence whatsoever that he bribed Pemex officials with the money.
In response to a question from Univision News about the personal repercussions of the SEC investigation of the incident, Camil Garza replied that there had been none. "Besides," he said, "I'm a very, very close friend of the Bush family."
Univision News is waiting for a statement from Mexico's Prosecutor's Office about last year's final decision regarding Camil Garza's case.