|English | Español||May 27, 2018 | Issue #56|
Sarkozy and the Mexican Banker: the Journalist Who Spoke Out
Al Giordano Investigated President Sarkozy’s Host. According to Him, Hernández Ramírez’s Ties to Narco-Trafficking Are Not Just Old Rumors
By Anne Vigna
Roberto Hernandez Ramirez (left) with the CEO of Citigroup Sandy Weil in 2001
Daniel Aguilar, Reuters
Saturday, during the TV news show “Clair”, the spokesperson for the UMP (Union for the Presidential Majority – Sarkozy’s party) accused Rue 89 of “spreading rumors”.
Rue89 met Al Giordano during a visit to Mexico. Al Giordano is one of two journalists who have won lawsuits filed by Hernández Ramírez, following investigations that revealed suspicious activities on the part of the banker.
Rue 89: The spokesperson of the UMP in France believes your investigation into Hernández Ramírez’s ties to drug trafficking are “rumors” that “date back to the 80’s.” He declared on television that Ramírez had never been concerned about them.
Giordano: These rumors don’t date back to the 80’s, but were confirmed by the Supreme Court of New York in 2001. Mr. Spokesperson, why are you talking about rumors when these are facts confirmed by a court of justice? Who are you looking to protect in all of this?
It’s an old habit to dismiss (the facts) by talking about rumors but this time the justice system has proven us right.
Rue 89: How do you know about Roberto Hernández Ramírez ?
Giordano: In February 1999, I was a journalist for the Boston Phoenix and I came to Mexico, to the Yucatan peninsula, to cover a summit on drugs between the Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and Bill Clinton. I was reading the local papers and one of them, Por Esto!, caught my attention.
On the cover, this paper confirmed that Roberto Hernandez Ramirez, the man who had provided a hacienda for the meeting of the two presidents, was himself a drug trafficker.
Photo from the newspaper Por Esto! covering Roberto Hernandez Ramirez
The more we talked about the investigation, the more interesting documents he showed me. Mario Menéndez had already published his conclusions in 1996 and since then, he has been brought to trial seventeen times for defamation. But Mario Menéndez Rodríguez hasn’t lost a single trial, which is very rare in Mexico.
His investigation was based on photos that clearly show Colombian cocaine boats on the beach properties of Roberto Hernandez Rodriguez and planes taking off from the same property toward the north.
Rue 89: How was he able to get hold of these documents?
Giordano: Thanks to the fishermen who have always worked in the area. When Mr. Hernandez took over the territorial waters- completely illegally, by the way- his men threatened the fishermen and stop them from fishing off the coast of his property.
They were of great help to the photographers of Por Esto! in shoring up the facts. At the same time, there was already evidence linking his bank, Banamex, to money laundering activities, following a three-year investigation carried out by the DEA called “Operation Casablanca.”
This is nothing new, because nearly all Mexican and American banks have been involved in money laundering at different levels.
What is new, however, is that a banker, whose illicit activities were well known in the Yucatan, could be the host of a summit against the drug trade between two presidents, thereby proving to the world that he’s a respectable man.
I went back to the US and published this investigation in the Boston Phoenix. For Banamex, it was complicated to bring a lawsuit against a big newspaper like the Boston Phoenix. They didn’t file suit.
Rue 89: So how did we come to the New York courts?
That’s why, a few months later, Banamex decided to take their defamation suit to the New York Supreme Court, arguing that they weren’t drug traffickers and that these reports are tarnishing their reputation.
In July 2001, the trial began and that same week Banamex merged with Citigroup, the largest banking institution on the planet, where Roberto Hernández got a seat on the board of directors. So we found ourselves face to face with the giants of finance.
The verdict was presented in December 2001. The Supreme Court ruled that Banamex was not able to prove that the incriminating facts were false or that Narco News acted in bad faith.
The ruling was unprecedented. It was the first time that an American court had ruled that the laws that govern the traditional media are applicable to internet media.
Rue 89: Why is this trial so unknown in Mexico?
Giordano: Essentially because Banamex is the bank that takes out the most advertising in the Mexican media and that Roberto Hernandez was on the board of directors at Televisa, the biggest media network in the country.
Our banker has also been friends with all of the Mexican presidents for the past twenty years, so he’s basically untouchable and the Mexican authorities have never investigated his activities. Even if our trial was covered by the American press, the New York Times and the Washington Post never talked about it.
That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to see that the French press has had the courage of to talk about these investigations, to tell who Roberto Hernandez Ramirez really is.
Rue 89: Why do you believe that Nicolas Sarkozy went to stay in this man’s home?
Giordano: I have no idea. I suppose that Mexican president Felipe Calderon had something to do with it, just like Zedillo had something to do with Clinton staying with this same Hernández. The most incredible thing is that the Merida Initiative, the aid plan for Mexico and Central America, was also hatched in one of his haciendas, which tells a lot about corruption.
For Roberto Hernandez Ramirez, his way of clearing his reputation is to invite heads of state into his home. The French government could not have been completely ignorant of who this man is, especially because he’s the proud owner of a beautiful castle in your country.
Narco News translation by Elizabeth Allen Giordano
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism