MEXICO CITY -- It’s become known as the case of the “fake journalists.” And it’s a headache that just won’t go away for Televisa, the Mexican firm that’s the largest mass media company in the Spanish-speaking world.
Six weeks ago, border agents in Nicaragua detained a large crew moving in six news-gathering vans with the Televisa logo, finding more than $9 million in cash and traces of cocaine in the vans. Prosecutors later charged the 18 Mexicans with money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime.
Since then, a steady trickle of details have emerged over how assuredly the Mexican suspects passed themselves off as a news team from Televisa, and how extensive their cover was – down to custom clothing, expensive satellite equipment, internal Televisa documents and vehicle registrations linked to the media empire.
A 68-page report by Nicaraguan prosecutors that was leaked to the news media this week says investigators found Televisa folders in the vans, including one titled “Narcia Estrada.” Televisa’s website says the firm’s vice president for news is Amador Narcia Estrada.
Drug cartels in Mexico have in the past employed vehicles with the markings of well-known companies, including global express-delivery companies, to move narcotics, weapons and illicit cash.
Televisa has denied any link to the Mexican suspects, and the drug gang may have devised an extraordinary disguise much as other gangs have feigned being employees of other multinational firms. Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales said Sept. 20 that the drug gang appeared to be “using the prestige and name” of Televisa but that the network had nothing to do with the crime ring.
Televisa issued a statement Aug. 28 that said none of the 18 Mexicans had ever worked for the network and the confiscated vehicles weren’t part of its fleet, which is thought to comprise 1,700 vehicles.
Narcia Estrada tweeted Tuesday that Televisa had, “of course, nothing to do with the matter of the vehicles in Nicaragua. It’s been said several times.”
Nicaraguan police say they received an anonymous tip that led them to detain the convoy of vans Aug. 20 at the Las Manos border crossing with Honduras.
A woman who identified herself as the crew chief, Raquel Alatorre Correa, was petulant with border agents upon their initial detention, according to the prosecutors’ report that was leaked this week.
Asked where she was headed in Nicaragua, she replied: “I won’t tell you.”
After hours of detention, Alatorre softened and told officials, “I will tell you the truth. We are investigating a Mexican citizen who is laundering money in the country,” the report says.
But other members of the apparent television crew had different stories.
“They began to contradict each other, with one saying they were going to Managua for a probe into money laundering, another saying they were headed to Costa Rica to investigate Walmart stores there, others saying they were reporting on tourism in Nicaragua and others who said their aim was to investigate Nicaraguan state institutions,” one investigator is quoted as saying in the report.
Alatorre, the 39-year-old boss, cut a notable figure with a Cartier watch, a Bvlgari ring, another large diamond ring and several gold trinket chains, it said.