About two weeks ago, Roberto Borge, the youngest person ever elected governor in the state of Quintana Roo, was relaxing aboard his favorite yacht, “Time Out”, in the Royal Palm Mariner in Miami. At the time, he must have known that the Mexican DA’s office was busy preparing a criminal case against him.
Yet he appears relaxed, tan and care-free, a 37 year-old bachelor with every perk any man could want, lying on a teak deck in the South Florida sunshine. In another photo, with a drink in hand, dark glasses and polo shirt, he seems like a man very much at peace with himself.
Until captured by Guatemalan authorities on Jun 4, Borge led an idyllic life, splitting his time between Miami, Havana, the Bahamas and Paris. Although he was declared a fugitive in Mexico, he entered and left the country at will. He often took trips to Europe and Panama, where he appeared in a May 25 photo seated in the extravagant lobby of the Trump Tower on Punta Colón, Panama.
In this photo, the watch on his wrist 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 shabby for a man the authorities claimed had misappropriated about 40 square miles of prime real estate in Quintana Roo. To put this in perspective, these land holdings amount to over six times the size of the entire hotel zone in Cancun.
At a news conference held on June 5 in Guadalajara, the Special Assistant Prosecutor in the Organized Crime Investigation unit (SEIDO) explained that Borge was wanted by the authorities for both illegal appropriation of public lands and money laundering.
According to the government, he “dispossessed” huge parcels of state-owned properties, which he then sold to friends, family and acquaintances at rock-bottom prices.
In Tulum, the then-governor organized a network of magistrates, judges, actuaries and officials that “stripped 44 hotels and 19 lots from their rightful owners using false documents and leases.”
According to an investigation by Mexicans against Corruption and Impunity, Borge also seized numerous luxury condos and residential buildings in Cancun, selling them afterward at half price (or less) to his cronies.
“Since the PRI lost the governorship, between June and August 2016, [Borge] dedicated himself. . . to expediting the [illegal] purchase and sale of misappropriated properties so that by the time the new governor entered office, the deals would already be finalized.”
His holdings amounted to over 9,500 hectares, right at the edge of a world-class tourist area with scores of luxury hotels, lavish pool areas and stunning views of turquoise seas.
Will he be convicted?
At this point, the ex-governor faces between 5 and 15 years of prison.
The question is: will he be convicted? This is Mexico after all, which means that even if he is found guilty, it’s highly improbable that he’ll serve any time. And who knows how many years of litigation will be needed to wrest away illegally confiscated lands from his cronies.
For Borge still has friends in high places. In Nov 2016, right after the opposition took office and began uncovering irregularities, the state legislature tried to enact legislation to prevent Borge from leaving the country.
The PRI reacted with fury, uniting to defend the ex-governor and preventing a single sanction against him.
How he was caught
To the international agents working on the case, it was clear that Borge would do everything to avoid making purchases 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 Panamanian police, they tracked down an assistant who reserved a plane ticket from a phone in Trump Tower, Panama. Within hours, undercover Interpol agents had arrived at the hotel, where they found Borge sitting in the lobby dressed in a polo shirt and wearing a fancy watch. He’d been a guest there for three days, and had already reserved four plane tickets, none of which had yet been paid for.
The agents laid low and waited.
On Fri Jun 2, Borge’s assistant finally paid for Air France flight 475 from Panama City to Paris. On Sunday evening, as Borge awaited a 8:25 PM international flight at Tocumen airport, Panamanian police burst into the boarding area and placed him under arrest.
What went wrong?
In Mexico’s inner circles of power, Roberto Borge was considered royalty, part of an illustrious and long-serving clan of Quintano Roo politicians. His uncle, Miguel Borge Martín, served as governor of the state between 1987 and 1993.
As the youngest elected leader in QR’s history, Borge was a leading figure in what the PRI called a ‘new generation’. He was often seen socializing with the president, and was warmly embraced by the most powerful elements in the ruling party.
By the time he left office, he was still in his mid 30’s, ready to embark on a promising career in business. As it turns out, the man was – and apparently had always been – 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 unlawfully seized property?
No one can answer this question, but given the Mexican prosecutor’s dismal track record and deeply ingrained corruption, it’s highly unlikely.
Perhaps the bigger question is: will the PRI ever change?