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Two former officials of Mexico’s electric utility acquitted of corruption over natural gas contracts with Texas company

A judge ruled in favor of Javier Gutiérrez and José Guadalupe Valdés over a case involving executives from CFE in Mexico and Whitewater Midstream in the US, where the business dealings are also being probed

cfe
A CFE office in the city of Saltillo, in a file image.Antonio Ojeda (EFE)
Isabella Cota

Javier Gutiérrez Becerril and José Guadalupe Valdés, accused by Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) of having signed natural gas contracts improperly during the administration of former president Enrique Peña Nieto, won a legal battle on Thursday. At a hearing, Judge Roberto Omar Paredes decided not to link the accused to the legal process underway for a case of alleged corruption between American company Whitewater Midstream and former officials of the Mexican utility. The Thursday ruling affects one of the more than 10 investigations for alleged corruption that the Prosecutor’s Office has opened. The CFE will seek to appeal the decision.

A story by EL PAÍS first exposed ties between former CFE official Guillermo Turrent, his colleague Javier Gutiérrez, and executives of the Texas-based natural gas company Whitewater Midstream. After the article publication, in 2022, CFE accused Turrent and Gutiérrez of “rampant corruption, cronyism, and conflicts of interest” by awarding the company multimillion-dollar contracts through a “sham” open tender, according to documents that are part of an open case in the United States. The Mexican government also opened an investigation in Mexico and brought a case against Gutiérrez to the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Combating Corruption.

On Thursday, at a 13-hour hearing in the South Prison of Mexico City, this office’s representative, Blanca Peralta, presented as evidence documents that indicate that companies that won six contracts awarded by a private subsidiary of CFE, CFE International, were incorporated only one day before the agreements were signed. The companies were founded by WhiteWater Midstream executives with pre-existing ties to Guillermo Turrent, then general director of CFE International, exposed for the first time in EL PAÍS in 2021. Peralta described the granting of the contracts as a transaction “between friends.” Turrent was not part of this case, since only the signatures of Gutiérrez and Valdés appeared on the contracts.

The Prosecutor’s Office also presented evidence to show a previous relationship between Gutiérrez and one of the executives of the American private companies, Matthew Calhoun, including the fact that they shared a postal address in Texas prior to Gutiérrez joining CFE in 2014. According to a source with direct knowledge, the case resolved on Thursday is just one of more than 10 investigation folders in the hands of the Prosecutor’s Office that revolve around the deals made between Turrent, Gutiérrez and two WhiteWater executives, Arlin Travis and Matt Calhoun.

The defense team for Gutiérrez and Valdés requested that the investigation be definitively closed, arguing that the contracts were made between two private companies abroad. Judge Paredes agreed with this argument and said that, if a crime had been committed by improperly signing said contracts in December 2016, this was done in Houston, Texas and not in Mexico, and said Mexico’s federal criminal code does not apply to events that occurred outside the country. Judge Paredes also argued that the alleged crime had already passed the statute of limitations.

CFE has taken the WhiteWater case to courts in the United States, where Turrent and Gutiérrez are accused of corruption in a civil procedure. Both will face a jury in a trial that is expected to take place in 2025. The Mexican government has said that, in addition to the civil case led by CFE in the United States, the authorities of the neighboring country are carrying out their own investigation into the business activity. Gutiérrez has dual American-Mexican nationality.

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