Electoral authorities in Mexico City courted controversy this week by absolving a prominent member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of using public funds to run a prostitution network from his office.
An undercover investigation by MVS Noticias in April unearthed evidence that Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre, then the president of the PRI in Mexico City, had been hiring female staff in return for sexual favors.
But on August 25 the Electoral Institute of the Federal District (IEDF) ruled that there was insufficient evidence of wrongdoing on Gutiérrez’s part.
Six of seven general council members voted to acquit the politician. The only dissenter was the president of the council, Diana Talavera, whose proposal for further investigation was rejected.
Critics denounce impunity
Reacting to the IEDF decision, José Antonio Crespo Mendoza, a historian and political analyst from the CIDE university, condemned the level of impunity in Mexico: “Our institutions do not hold violators of the law accountable. Accountability is an essential element of democracy … but we are lacking this essential capacity.”
Teresa Ulloa, the Mexican director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women in Latin America and the Caribbean – who said she had been harassed after presenting evidence against Gutiérrez – slammed the verdict as “shameful.”
Mexico’s left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) vowed to appeal the decision and claimed that the investigation had been neither exhaustive nor transparent.
The PRD issued a statement demanding “clarification as to how the PRI hired these women who supposedly appeared on the payroll under the guise of ‘administrative staff’” and announced that it has hired a legal team to encourage the women to file complaints against Gutiérrez.
“We are certain that the women involved in the Gutiérrez de la Torre case have not come forward to make statements for fear of reprisals from their former bosses, which does not mean that the crimes being investigated did not occur,” the statement said.
The PRI, which ruled Mexico from 1939 until 2000 and reclaimed power in 2012, has long been dogged by allegations of corruption, while Mexican politicians have historically been considered above the law.
“The institutions are failing, the message from the PRI is the same as always, one of impunity, of covering up the deeds of its leaders and its members, as it has always done. It’s a cancer that is killing us as a nation,” added Senator Luis Sánchez Jiménez of the PRD.
Even some members of the PRI lamented the decision to acquit Gutiérrez, who resigned as the party’s leader in Mexico City in June.
“The IEDF has set a bad precedent,” said Italy Ciani Sotomayor, president of the PRI’s National Justice Commission, which must decide whether or not to expel Gutiérrez from the party.
Despite being cleared of misappropriating public funds, Gutiérrez could still face charges from the Mexico City Attorney General’s Office for soliciting prostitutes. “But if the IEDF and the Attorney General both exonerate him, then how can we expel him from the party?” Ciani asked.
Pimping in office
The heir to an industrial waste disposal empire, Gutiérrez faced similar accusations of hiring prostitutes in 2003, although he was never charged.
The latest allegations came to light after an undercover Noticias MVS reporter replied to an advertisement his office posted online soliciting “female personnel to work in government offices, 18-32 years old.”
The reporter was interviewed for the position, alongside several other applicants, who were told that Gutiérrez “does not like overweight girls” and encouraged to wear plenty of makeup, low necklines, short skirts and high heels.
The girls, who were not permitted to carry bags or cell phones into Gutiérrez’s office, learned that their duties would include “having sex” with him and that they could begin that very day.
During the interview process, the obese, 46-year-old Gutiérrez “did not stop kissing” one of the girls and reportedly asked another to take off all her clothes, although she refused to do so.
The chosen applicants were told that they would be placed on the party payroll as secretaries or receptionists. They would be paid in cash on a weekly basis and would receive a total of 11,000 pesos ($840) per month.
Gutiérrez’s office allegedly employed between 12 and 15 women, mostly single moms, divorcees and students in need of extra cash. The funds came from the PRI’s Finance Secretary, Roberto Zamorano Pineda, MVS reported.
Claudia Priscila Martínez González, who was allegedly tasked with recruiting the call girls and whose voice appears on the recordings made by the MVS reporter, later claimed that she had been paid 30,000 pesos ($2,292) to “create a scandal” to discredit Gutiérrez. MVS has vehemently denied her claims.