In a video interview posted on YouTube this week, Mexican businessman Alfredo Romero said he was kidnapped for five weeks for planning to denounce corruption by Aristóteles Sandoval, the governor of the western state of Jalisco.
Romero told Luke Rudkowski, a journalist from the grassroots media outlet We Are Change, that he uncovered evidence of corruption when he was working for an Italian construction firm in Jalisco.
Romero claimed to have seen documents that showed Sandoval had falsified expenses and embezzled public funds during his time as mayor of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city and the capital of Jalisco state.
Romero said he saw receipts that revealed that Sandoval spent just 120,000 pesos (US$7,900) on renovating the Minerva fountain, one of Guadalajara’s most iconic landmarks, in 2011, despite claiming to have spent 1.2 million pesos ($79,000), ten times the actual amount.
Romero alleged that the remaining 1.08 million pesos of public money went into the funds for Sandoval’s campaign in the gubernatorial election.
He also claimed to have read an email to the construction company in which Sandoval offered them a highly coveted contract to develop the Creative Digital City, a major development plan that aims to transform Guadalajara’s historic city center into a hub for digital media firms.
Sandoval allegedly offered to sell the contract to the firm for $15 million. Romero said this was completely illegal because public contracts are supposed to be granted through an open bidding process and the governor is not meant to be involved in this process.
Sandoval represents the same Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose administration remains embroiled in a series of similar conflict-of-interest scandals involving public contracts.
Kidnapped from his home
Romero said that he had been preparing to make this information public through local civic organization Ciudad Para Todos when several male intruders broke into his home late one night and abducted him.
They drove him away and locked him in empty room for days.
“I was given one bowl of boiled vegetables every day. There was a bucket to go to the bathroom in,” Romero said of his living conditions.
On several occasions, his abductors “tied a bag over my head, twisted my arms over my back and sat me forcefully on a chair and put my feet in a bucket of ice,” Romero added. “Then they started telling me, ‘OK, they gave us the order man, that’s it, you’re toast.’”
His captors then put what Romero assumed to be a gun to his head and threatened to kill him before beating him with the weapon.
After five weeks in captivity, Romero was eventually dumped in the remote town of Santa Lucia, wearing nothing but his pants. His kidnappers warned him, “If you disclose or talk to anybody about any of this stuff that you learned in your last job you are going to be disappeared permanently.”
When he returned home, the evidence of corruption that had been in Romero’s possession was missing. Against his family’s advice, he immediately went to a regional radio station to denounce everything that had happened to him.
“The theory of going to the radio station is that if you are very visible, if something happens to you, people will know why and know who (was responsible),” Romero explained. “The worst thing you can do is be quiet, because then they’ve won.”
Romero added that the ordeal had motivated him to become more politically active and start working with various civic organizations in a bid to change Mexican society.
True to his word, Romero was one of the most visible figures leading a march through downtown Guadalajara last week to mark the six months since the disappearance of 43 students in the southern state of Guerrero.
Dressed as Peña Nieto with fake blood on his hands, he satirically told onlookers that he would give them free televisions if they agreed to ignore the demonstrations.
His comments were a pointed reference to the recent government policy of handing out millions of free digital TVs in poor communities – an act that critics have interpreted as an attempt to entice recipients into voting for the PRI.