Mexico City prosecutors accused of asking for phone records of prominent politicians

MEXICO CITY — An opposition candidate for the mayorship of Mexico City accused the city prosecutor’s office of having filed a request for his phone records and those of other prominent politicians Thursday.

The allegation is the latest suggestion that city prosecutors have abused their power for political ends. The prosecutors office “categorically denied” the accusations Thursday.

The city is governed by the Morena party of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who pledged to end political espionage in Mexico but apparently has not done so.

The case, reported by The New York Times, involves Santiago Taboada, the borough chief of a wealthy part of the city. Taboada plans to run for mayor in 2024.

He said the phone record request constituted “political persecution.”

“Now more than ever, the political persecution I have been subject to for months has been exposed,” Taboada wrote in his social media accounts.

City prosecutors allegedly asked a private phone company to turn over phone and text records for Taboada and over a dozen other politicians — including opposition figures and some top members of the president’s own party — as part of supposed investigations.

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Taboada’s office said the requests for phone records were found in prosecution case files, and that the records were apparently turned over. The telephone company named in those papers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether it did so.

Prosecutors’ spokesman Ulises Lara said Thursday “this office does not spy on political figures,” but he did not deny the existence of documents that Taboada says were uncovered in a lawsuit.

Instead, Lara said the requests had been “falsified” and that the case had been referred for investigation to Mexico’s equivalent of an internal affairs office — suggesting that someone inside the prosecutors office or some other government employee had indeed actually filed the phone record requests.

In Mexico, prosecutors can make urgent requests for phone records in cases of emergency, but must eventually get a court order. Lara said there are no open criminal cases or investigations of those whose records were sought.

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The issue is a sensitive one for López Obrador, who himself was subjected to government surveillance in the 1970s and 80s.

While he claims the government no longer does domestic spying, in April, press freedom groups said the government apparently continued to use Pegasus spyware to infect telephones of human rights activists as recently as late 2022.

It would not be the first time city prosecutors have appeared to use the law for political ends.

In August, city prosecutors took the extreme and unusual step of getting marines to accompany them across state lines and arrest Uriel Carmona, the attorney general of the neighboring state of Morelos, and spirit him back to the capital.

Courts later ruled Carmona’s arrest was improper and ordered him freed. Prosecutors in Mexico are allowed to act only withing their states, unless they get permission from another state.

Mexico City prosecutors said Carmona was arrested on charges of obstructing the investigation into the 2022 killing of a Mexico City woman whose body was found dumped just over the state line in Morelos.

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But Carmona says he is the victim of a political conspiracy involving former soccer star Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the governor of Morelos state. Carmona said López Obrador ordered his arrest because his office was investigating Blanco’s alleged ties to drug traffickers.

Blanco, a political ally of López Obrador, has denied any links to drug traffickers after a 3-year-old photo surfaced showing him posing with three men identified as local drug gang leaders.

Earlier this year, city prosecutors arrested an opposition-party city council member on charges of corruption. But city prosecutors have failed to jail or convict anyone for the May 2021 collapse of an elevated section of a city subway line that killed 26 people and injured nearly 100.

That case was embarrassing because both the previous mayor who built the subway line and former mayor Claudia Sheinbaum — whose administration apparently failed to detect the problem or properly maintain the tracks — belong to the president’s Morena party. Sheinbaum is now the party’s 2024 presidential candidate.