Mexico’s richest woman claims she was victim of extortion attempt

María Asunción Aramburuzabala accuses group of trying to extract $5m over property deal

Businesswoman María Asunción Aramburuzabala.
Businesswoman María Asunción Aramburuzabala.ARTURO QUINTERO (HOLA)

The building of a housing complex in one of Mexico City’s most affluent neighborhoods has stirred up controversy involving businesswoman María Asunción Aramburuzabala.

One of the most powerful women in Latin America, Aramburuzabala has accused a group of local residents, including Adriana Pérez Romo, the wife of the country’s best-known television news anchor, Joaquín López-Dóriga, of extortion.

Aramburuzabala has multiplied the fortune she inherited from her father in 1995

Aramburuzabala is the granddaughter of Félix Aramburuzabala, a businessman who emigrated from the Basque Country to Mexico in the 1920s where he built up Grupo Modelo, one of the most important beer empires in the world. The Dutch-Brazilian company Angeuser-Busch Inveb acquired a 50-percent share in the business for $20.1 billion in June 2012. Aramburuzabala still owns part of the company and serves as vice president on the board of directors.

María Asunción Aramburuzabala – or Mariasun among her friends – is a talented businesswoman who has multiplied the fortune she inherited from her father in 1995. She is the sixth-richest person in Mexico and sits in 265th spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people. She was also the first woman to sit on the Mexican Stock Exchange’s board of directors (2003-2006). She holds investments in the banking, telecommunications, transport and real estate sectors.

The attorneys of the accused say the $5m was compensation for the loss in value their clients’ properties would suffer

The controversy exploded when Reforma newspaper published a recording in which, Aramburuzabala’s lawyers say, a group of local residents apparently pressures her construction company to pay $5 million in order to build a housing complex in Polanco, one of the most upscale neighborhoods in Mexico City.

Her legal team has accused the group of extortion, while the attorneys of the accused say the money was compensation for the loss in value their clients’ properties would suffer.

Aramburuzabala’s real estate firm, Abilia, plans to build a 30-floor apartment building in the area. Her chief legal advisor, Javier Coello, said the residents also demanded that she change the glass windows of her own building, which will be next door to her housing complex. The group’s attorney, Mario Alberto Becerra Pocoroba, admits that his clients asked for money but maintains that the $5 million was to make up for a loss in property value.

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López-Dóriga, who is the lead anchor on Televisa’s main news program, commented on the controversy on his Twitter page, saying he had no involvement in the legal dispute. He also accused Reforma of publishing stories in favor of Aramburuzabala.

Televisa has reiterated López-Dóriga’s statement, saying that the conflict has no news value. “This is an issue between individuals pending resolution from the Mexico City courts,” the media group said in a press release.

Based on the size of the lot Abilia owns, it can only build a 12th-floor housing complex according to city regulations. Yet, the company plans to put up a 30-floor construction. Aramburuzabala’s legal team says their client has obtained the necessary permits from the city to move forward with the project. And one of her lawyers asked: “If [the legal permits] are illicit, how come [the residents’ lawyer] was able to receive $5 million?”

Translation by Dyane Jean François.

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