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New corruption prosecutor opens 680 investigations

In March this year, when the first Chief Anticorruption Prosecutor of Mexico was appointed, few would have bet that within only eight months she would already have 680 cases under investigation. Her early track record is even more impressive considering the challenges faced.

Luz Mijangos Borja brought to her position a record of outstanding academic and public service. She holds a PhD in economics and law from Universidad Complutense de Madrid and was a Fulbright Scholar for postdoctoral studies at Yale Law School. She held several key government positions before her appointment on March 11 as the first Chief Anticorruption Prosecutor of Mexico.

Here are three of the main challenges she has faced in her new post:

First, the transition from the former Attorney General Office to the new Chief Prosecutors Office. This occurred in December of 2018 and transformed the Attorney General Office into an autonomous prosecuting entity, the new Chief Prosecutors Office. What may seem as a change in name and acronym, really implies a complete overhaul of the top prosecuting office in the country. Such reinvention required a profound redefinition of areas, responsibilities and mission, to accomplish the difficult task of achieving legitimacy and efficacy in a country with a high rate of impunity. The change is also significant given that both the country’s first chief prosecutor and the first specialized anti-corruption chief prosecutor were appointed in January and March 2019, respectively, for a term of nine years in office, a previously unseen tenure for prosecutors.

The amendments to the Federal Criminal Code grouped under section named ‘Crimes Arising from Corrupt Situations’ became effective upon the appointment of the new Chief Anticorruption Prosecutor, classifying as crimes acts of bribery, intimidation, abusive exercise of authority, influence peddling, embezzlement of public funds, and illicit enrichment.

Second, the creation of the office of the first Chief Anticorruption Prosecutor. This office, arguably one of the most important in the administration of a President that has vowed to make fighting corruption its priority, started from zero. Not only did she have to hire new professionals adept for the challenge, but also to train them on the job and start building institutional capabilities to accomplish the mission. Such capabilities include not only criminal law and enforcement, but also knowledge of compliance and the skills required to investigate and prosecute companies. Because corporate legal responsibility was implemented in just 2014, the mindset of former federal officials was focused on the criminal responsibility of corrupt public officials and not on the companies involved in the corruption.

Third, the country is still coming to grips with a major change in the criminal procedural system. In 2015, the country’s criminal procedure system moved from a mostly written process into an oral procedure with “opportunity criteria” to benefit collaborators, and includes new alternative resolution mechanisms and abbreviated procedures. This change continues to be learned and digested nationwide by practitioners and enforcers. This adds significantly to the challenges already described.

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The effects of the 680 investigations to date under the watch of the new Chief Prosecutors Office will continue to make ripples and add to the high profile prosecution cases already made public, such as those involving Odebrecht, the former CEO of PEMEX and the Chairman of AHMSA – the largest integrated steel producer of Mexico.

It is fair to say that 2020 will be a pivotal year in Mexico’s corporate criminal investigations and enforcement of crimes related to corruption, a year in which many eyes will be focused on the first Chief Anticorruption Prosecutor.

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