MEXICO CITY (AP) — An audio recording of pharmaceutical company executives purportedly negotiating how
much to offer as a kickback for a government contract has sparked investigations
and the suspension of several businesspeople and a Mexican official, authorities
The tone and content of the recording suggest government corruption remains
rife in Mexico despite years of reforms, as does collusion between big companies
— a common problem in the highly monopolized economy. The government announced
it was referring the matter to the anti-monopoly commission as well as other
On the tape, two men representing two big pharmaceutical firms discuss how much should be paid to an
unidentified person to obtain an 80 million peso ($6.5 million) contract.
After discussing dinner plans, one voice says: “You and I will reach an
agreement on the issue of, I don’t know, how much.”
“We have to talk about 3, between 3 and 4 percent, no?” he continues.
“At least that much,” the other man responds. “I would say 5 … if not, it
won’t work out.”
Ultimately they settle on “at least 5 percent” and later mention the name of
a government health official — though nothing in the recording explicitly links
that official to a possible bribe. The recording was made public earlier this
week by the Televisa television network.
Mexico’s Stendhal Laboratories said Thursday that one of the voices was its
president, Carlos Abelleyra, and that he and another employee had been
“temporarily separated from the company.”
“Our company stresses that the business activities mentioned and carried out
by telephone by Mr. Abelleyra were done in his own name. We categorically state
that they had no commercial or business relation to our laboratory,” Stendhal
said in a statement.
Abelleyra told local media the discussion was not about kickbacks, but rather
The other company reported to be involved, the local division of Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant Novartis, would not confirm whether
the second voice on the recording belonged to one of its executives.
But Novartis expressed “surprise and concern” about the allegations and said
in a statement that the company is investigating.
Earlier, the Federal Public Administration Department, the oversight agency
in charge of public servants, announced a probe.
Meanwhile the Mexican Social Security Institute purchasing coordinator whose
name was mentioned on the recording was also suspended.
No charges have been filed against anyone.
Many in Mexico hoped the country’s long tradition of rampant corruption would
fade after historic 2000 presidential election that ended 71 years of
A decade later, a number of reforms have been implemented — for example, the
current president does not control an official discretionary fund containing
millions of dollars, as his predecessors did.
But most Mexicans believe large sectors of the economy and especially public
contracts are often still decided by influence, personal ties or bribery.
Last month, Transparency International released a Global Corruption
Perceptions Index that draws on surveys of experts and businesses. On a scale of
1 to 10, with 10 being the least corrupt, Mexico got a score of 3.1, below
countries like Burkina Faso, Liberia and Albania.
Recent corruption scandals appear to confirm those fears.
In October, a California company and two of its executives were indicted in a
U.S. court on conspiracy charges for allegedly bribing officials at Mexico’s
state-owned utility for lucrative contracts.
Federal prosecutors say the company paid more than $5 million to an
intermediary that was used to buy a Mexican official a $1.8 million yacht called
the “Dream Seeker” and a $300,000 Ferrari.
The official named in the case recently resigned, and Mexico’s federal
Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation. The agency also located
and confiscated the yacht.