Fugitive banker appears in print

November 05, 1994|By New York Times News Service

MEXICO CITY -- A fugitive Mexican banker who has eluded an international manhunt for almost two months resurfaced on Thursday, but only in several Mexican newspapers.

Though he remains on the run, Carlos Cabal Peniche declared in an audacious "open letter to public opinion" published on the front page of the daily Reforma and in two other newspapers that he was retaining control of his businesses, including the Del Monte Fresh Produce Co. of Florida. Mexican banking officials promptly dismissed the claim as impossible.

Mr. Cabal Peniche, a 37-year-old financial entrepreneur, has owned Del Monte Fresh Produce since 1992. Last September, he came within a few weeks of purchasing the canned-foods division of Del Monte as well, before Mexican authorities sought his arrest on charges that he violated Mexican banking laws by steering up to $700 million in bank loans to himself.

The Finance Ministry seized control of his two banks, Banco Union and Banca Cremi. There has been no run on either bank by depositors, and operations have continued normally. Mr. Cabal Peniche's planned purchase of the Del Monte canned food unit was canceled in September.

Because the government now holds the banks, a banking official said, Mr. Cabal Peniche's promise to remain in control is hollow. Officials have said the banks and other properties belonging to Mr. Cabal Peniche might have to be sold to pay creditors and shareholders.

Mr. Cabal Peniche did not disclose his whereabouts in the letter published on Thursday, though he has reportedly been seen in Miami and Monaco. He said he was out of Mexico when the federal police tried to arrest him at his Banco Union office on Sept. 5.

He contended that he had broken no laws, and said the authorities had gone after him because of jealousy about his success in rising from a shrimp exporter to become one of Mexico's most powerful financial figures.

Given Mr. Cabal Peniche's history of secret deals and the many rumors of his mysterious alliances with both government officials and criminal groups, his claims of innocence were met with skepticism by Mexico's financial community, which is still trying to recover from the country's worst bank scandal in 20 years.

The government's actions against Mr. Cabal Peniche prompted a widespread review of banking laws and regulatory oversight that is expected to result in new tougher rules to be issued soon.

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