About two weeks ago, Roberto Borge, the youngest governor ever elected in the state of Quintana Roo, was relaxing aboard his favorite yacht, “Time Out”, in the Royal Palm Mariner in Miami.
He must have surely known that the Mexican DA’s office was busy preparing a case against him.
In this video, he appears tan, healthy and relaxed, a 37 year-old single man with every perk anyone could want, lying on a teak deck in the South Florida sunshine. In another photo, with drink in hand, dark glasses, polo shirt, chilled-out expression, he seems like a man at peace with himself.
Who says that crooks don’t rest easy at night? That’s not the vibe Mr Borge gives off.
Until captured by Guatemalan authorities on Jun 4, Borge spent most of his time in Miami, Havana and the Bahamas. Although he was officially declared a fugitive in Mexico, he entered and left the country at will. He took frequent trips to Barcelona, Paris and Panama, where he appeared in a May 25 photo seated in the extravagant lobby of the Trump Tower on Punta Colón, Panama.
Borge always dressed to the T in polo shirts and expensive watches. The one on his wrist in the photo of him at Trump Tower appears to be a Bulgari Octo Solotempo, crafted of pink gold and bezel and studded with diamonds. It’s currently priced at €31,950.
Not too much to pay for a man who the authorities claim stole about 40 square miles of prime real estate in Quintana Roo. In total, his property holdings are estimated to be over six times larger than the entire hotel zone in Cancun.
At a news conference held on June 5 in Guadalajara, Israel Luis Salas, Special Assistant Prosecutor in the Organized Crime Investigation unit (SEIDO), explained that Borge was wanted for both illegal appropriation of public lands and money laundering.
According to the authorities, he “dispossessed” huge parcels of state-owned properties, which he then sold to individuals at rock bottom prices. All these buyers, of course, were Borge’s friends, family and cohorts.
In Tulum, Borge organized a network of magistrates, judges, actuaries and officials that “stripped 44 hotels and 19 lands using false documents and leases.”
According to an investigation by Mexicans against Corruption and Impunity, luxury condominiums and apartments were also embargoed in Cancun and later sold at half price to Borge’s cronies.
“Since the PRI lost the governorship, between June 5, 2016 and August 2016, [Borge] dedicated himself. . . to expediting the buying and selling processes so that when the new government came in, it was all finalized.”
As already mentioned, the total amounted to over 6 times the size of Cancun’s hotel zone, an area with scores of major luxury hotels with lavish pool areas, views of tranquil turquoise seas covering over 9,500 hectares of land.
If convicted, the ex-governor faces between 5 and 15 years in prison.
But who knows if Mr Borge will ever be convicted and, even if he is, whether he’ll serve time. Who knows how many legal battles (in a deeply corrupt legal system) will be needed to wrest away misappropriated land from his proxies.
Borge still has friends in high places – and the PRI still holds sway. In Nov 2016, just after the new opposition party governor Carlos Joaquín González took office and began uncovering irregularities, the state legislature tried passing legislation to prevent Borge from leaving the country.
The PRI reacted with fury, defending the ex-governor and preventing a single sanction against him.
How he was finally tracked down
To the investigators working on the case, it was clear that Borge would avoid doing anything under his own name. Plane tickets, rentals, hotel reservations, bank transfers… all were done using shell companies and proxies.
Last week, in collaboration with the Crime Investigation Agency and Panama police, they tracked down an assistant who made a plane reservation from a phone located in Trump Tower, Panama City. Within hours, undercover agents from Interpol were at the hotel, where they found Borge siting in the lobby wearing a polo shirt and fancy watch. He’d been a guest there for three days, and had four pending plane reservations, none of which he had yet paid for.
The agents settled down and waited.
On Friday, Jun 2, Borge’s assistant finally paid for a flight, Air France 475, from Panama City to Paris. On Sunday evening, as he awaited a 8:25 PM France-bound flight at Tocumen airport, Panamanian police burst into the boarding area and placed Borge under arrest.
In the inner circles of power, Roberto Borge was considered Mexican royalty, part of an illustrious family of Quintano Roo politicians. His uncle, Miguel Borge Martín, was governor of the state between 1987 and 1993.
As the youngest elected governor in QR’s history, Borge was an up-and-coming leader and inspiration of what the PRI called a ‘new generation’. He was friends with the president, and embraced by the most powerful players in the game.
By the time he left office, only in his mid 30’s, Borges proved to be just another gangster, one more fleeing PRI governor who thought he could get away with anything.
Will Quintana Roo ever recover more than US $500 million in stolen properties?
More importantly, will the PRI ever change?