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Police: Fox May Have Illegal Funds

Associated Press Writer -- July 17, 2002 - 5:06 PM EDT

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Bank records indicate that Mexican President Vicente Fox may have accepted illegal foreign contributions during his historic campaign in 2000, election officials said Wednesday.

"There are accounts that contain records of funds in foreign currency,'' said Jaime Cardenas, the Federal Electoral Institute's chief investigator. "These records may indicate that electoral rules were violated.''

A Fox spokesman said it was too early to comment on the investigation.

Cardenas said it wasn't yet clear if the president did anything illegal, because authorities could not yet prove the campaign received the foreign funds. Investigators are pouring over more than 2,000 pages of election documents provided by Fox's electoral committee, "Friends of Fox.''

"We have evidence that we will investigate, and that is all we have right now,'' Cardenas said in a telephone interview.

Cardenas' comments came less than a month after the Federal Electoral Tribunal ordered the Banking and Securities Commission to hand over Fox's campaign bank records. Banking officials had refused to release the records, arguing that investigators had overstepped their authority by asking for too much information.

Investigators began their probe in May after two opposition parties filed a lawsuit alleging that Fox's campaign improperly obtained and spent unspecified sums, some of it contributed by foreigners.

Mexican electoral law prohibits such donations.

Cardenas said records show that contributors transferred dollars from two U.S. banks and that a U.S.-based Mexican migrant workers group also made donations in dollars.

Records also indicate that a multinational cooperation based in Belgium provided funds in a foreign currency, Cardenas said.

He said the contributions varied in size from $1,000 to $2 million. Investigators don't yet know the total amount of contributions that apparently came from foreign sources.

"There isn't a number we can point to and say, 'There. We are investigating this amount,''' he said.

Cardenas said investigators have also uncovered evidence that a former top aide and close friend of Fox's, Carlos Rojas, may have received payments from foreign companies during the campaign.

Rojas, who served as president of the acquisitions committee for the presidency, was forced to resign last summer during a scandal over the purchase of towels costing $443 and $1,060 sheets for the presidential residence.

Cardenas also said investigators were checking to see if Fox's National Action Party and an alliance of other parties who backed Fox received foreign cash.

Federal prosecutors are also investigating charges that the labor union for the state-owned oil company, Pemex, illegally funneled $120 million to the campaign of Fox's chief opponent, Francisco Labastida, during the 2000 election.

Before Fox's victory, Labastida's Institutional Revolutionary Party had controlled Mexico's presidency and Congress since 1929.

Cardenas said the investigation into Labastida's campaign financing had been slowed by the union's refusal to provide its financial records.

"The labor union does not want to cooperate,'' he said. "That is very clear.''