Mexican Politician Denies Links to Riviera Maya Gang

Published: 16 February 2021

atm machineATM machine illustration. (Photo: Mohamed Hassan, Pixabay, License)

By Julett Pineda Sleinan

A politician from Mexico’s green party (PVE) was removed from office after his alleged links to a Romanian gang that skimmed ATMs in several tourist destinations across the Riviera Maya were exposed. 

Jose de la Peña Ruiz, PVE’s state representative of Quintana Roo, denied the allegations after Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) froze his funds, along with dozens of bank accounts believed to belong to individuals involved with the gang. 

The PVE State Political Council proceeded to announce that Pablo Bustamente would serve as his replacement in a brief statement, which didn’t go into detail why de la Peña Ruiz was removed from office. 

“I tell you, with my head held high, that I do not, have not, nor will I ever have a relationship, friendship or business with alleged criminal groups and individuals,” de la Peña Ruiz said Friday via Twitter. 

He also confirmed receiving a notification from the financial regulator last week saying his accounts had been blocked. De la Peña Ruiz said that he would cooperate with authorities as he had "nothing to fear".

In early February, the FIU blocked the accounts of 79 individuals and legal entities that reportedly belong to a criminal organization formed by Romanian and Mexican nationals. 

The group, which established its operations’ headquarters in Cancun (Quintana Roo), cloned credit and debit cards in compromised ATMs across the country, looting around US$ 1.2 billion from tourists. 

The gang made international transfers of more than 483 million pesos ($24 million) and issued checks and thousands of inter-bank transfers worth 4,643 billion pesos (US$231 million), according to a statement issued by the financial regulator.  

The FIU’s decision to block the accounts comes eight months after OCCRP , Quinto Elemento Lab, Mexicanos contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI) and Rise Project published an investigation that revealed the operations of the Riviera Maya gang.