(Refiles without changes to text, fixes dateline to Mexico
By Elinor Comlay
MEXICO CITY, July 25 A former middle manager at
Citigroup's Banamex unit in Mexico denied he was involved
in abetting a corporate loan fraud involving oil pipeline
maintenance company Oceanografia.
As reported by Reuters on July 21, Banamex is looking into
how it lost more than $500 million from the lending to
Oceanografia, and has zeroed in on Jose Ortega as a key figure,
according to two people familiar with its probe. The sources
said that Ortega changed employee manuals that the bank used
when deciding whether to lend to Oceanografia and other
companies that supply services to Mexican state oil company
The changes resulted in loans to these companies receiving
less scrutiny and therefore enabled fraudulent borrowing, the
sources said. Ortega could not be reached to
comment for that story.
Two days after that story was published, Ortega told Reuters
in a statement that he never had the authority to change
employee manuals on his own, and never made any changes in favor
of any particular customer. He did not work at the bank while
the fraudulent loans were made, he added.
"I have been unfairly mistreated by something that I did not
participate in and that I did not have any knowledge about,
because I had quit the bank more than a year previously," he
said in his statement.
A spokesman for Citigroup declined to comment on the matter.
The Mexican banking regulator, Comision Nacional Bancaria y
de Valores (CNBV), has poured scorn on the suggestion that
Ortega was instrumental in the fraud, and says Ortega probably
played only a bit part. The real problem was with the bank's
institutional failure to have proper controls in place, CNBV
President Jaime Gonzalez said in the July 21 story.
In that story, Reuters reported that in 2012 the Mexican
bank fired Ortega for having an outside business relationship
with Oceanografia, creating a conflict of interest, according to
one of the two sources familiar with the bank's probe. Banamex
had discovered that Ortega had received $200,000 from
Oceanografia's CEO Amado Yanez, the source added. One of the two
sources also said Ortega worked for Oceanografia as a consultant
after leaving Banamex.
In Ortega's statement, he said that he resigned from the
bank, and that he had never been an employee of Oceanografia or
any other company run by Yanez.
On Friday, one of the sources said that Ortega was forced to
Ortega also said in his statement that the $200,000 of
payments were for an apartment and for art, which his wife
Susana Sabines independently sold to Yanez. He added that his
wife's dealings with Yanez never had any influence on his work
Sabines confirmed on Friday that she sold the apartment as
well as some works of art to Yanez.
(Reporting by Elinor Comlay in Mexico City; Editing by Dan
Wilchins and Martin Howell)