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Tales from the crypt

10 June 2010

You might say Onésimo Cepeda Silva,  Bishop of Ecatepec, was just performing one of the Corporal Works of Mercy — burying the dead.  You might also say (and Proceso does say) that his behind the scenes control of the funeral service contractor, Grupo CIF (run by his half-sister and his nephew) has more to do with a slightly older, more universal theological concept:  thou shalt not steal.

With the accord between the Vatican and the Mexican state signed in 1992, and the resulting changes to Article 130 of the Constitution, churches could own cemeteries, which they hadn’t been able to do since 1859.  In 1995, the Catholic Church created a new Diocese of Ecatepec, naming Cepeda as its first Bishop.  Cepeda ambitiously built a new Cathedral with a big roomy basement.  The technical term for a church basement is  “crypt” which means it isn’t exactly designed for a rec room, but is meant for permanent storage. Well, at least til the Second Coming.

Reaching for his gun, or having just robbed candy from a baby? Photo of Bishop Cepeda by Eduardo Miranda, Proceso

So, the Bishop went into the burial plot biz… or rather set up his relations in the biz, supposedly not profiting from but perfect for storing stiffs, set his family up.  The… er… plot thickened, when the business expanded from just selling burial space in one crypt to offering pre-paid full-service funeral and burial arrangements.  Cepada’s personal and political connections to the PAN administration are said, by Proceso, to Grupo CIF  signing contracts with federal agencies and the Office of the President.

Alas, something smells.  Like the company’s auditors can’t even find Grupo CIF’s real offices, and what funds the auditors can locate don’t begin to cover the costs of funerals, let alone burial space, for which they have contracted.  Either it’s a Ponzi Scheme, in which somebody is going to get stiffed (but, they’ll be stiffs anyway, which makes it just about perfect), or money is being siphoned off.

The latter looks possible.  His Grace is under investigation by SIEDO (Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada — the organized crime bureau of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office) for money laundering.

Under Article 130 of the Constitution, the clergy cannot receive inheritances from non-relations, but there is nothing staying they can’t be the executor of an estate. The money laundering investigation grows out of complaints by the super-rich Azcárraga clan (as in Televisa, etc.) which claim Cepeda, as “spiritual counsel” to the late Olga Azcárraga, convinced her to make him the executor of her 130 million dollar art collection, which has been offered for sale as the personal property of the Bishop.

Grave robbing is creepy …. and money laundering tacky. Now, art theft — that’s the kind of classy delinquency one expects from the higher clergy.

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