Zhenli Ye Gon (now christened with a Wikipedia page) is a Mexican businessman of Chinese descent who entered the news in March after massive blocks of cash in various currencies were found in his mansion in D.F.'s fancy Lomas de Chapultepec. Authorities said the money was tied to a methamphetamine ring. Ye Gon, also known as "Charlie," was considered a fugitive, believed to be in the U.S.
Then earlier this month he reappeared and dropped a bomb of catastrophic proportions for the cloak-and-dagger world of Mexican politics: He accused the ruling conservative National Action Party (or PAN) of forcing him to hide the cash, alleging it was tied directly to President (sort of) Felipe Calderon. The L.A. Times summarizes:
In an interview with the Associated Press this month, Ye Gon said Calderon's Labor secretary, Javier Lozano, had given him the cash. The money, Ye Gon said, had been destined to fund Calderon's presidential campaign and "terrorist" activities in the event of the victory of Calderon's opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Ye Gon repeated those assertions in his 17-page letter published Monday, saying, "I am an innocent victim and I was blackmailed to participate in these activities of the corrupt politics of Mexico."
The letter spun a fantastic story that involved suitcases filled with money delivered by cars with diplomatic license plates. Officials from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, made him an "honorary senator," Ye Gon wrote.
Here's the link to the letter, published by El Universal. It's certainly juicy, and would, if believed, only confirm what many people in Mexico already widely assume, that corruption is so firmly entrenched in Mexico's political culture that even a president who puffs himself up as tough on the cartels is not immune to the lure of millions upon millions of U.S. dollars, pesos, Hong Kong dollars, and gold coin centenarios. Calderon, understandly defensive and a bit un-P.C., called Ye Gon's accusations a "cuento chino." Guess he's nervous: Vicente Fox, Calderon's predecessor, himself presented Ye Gon with his Mexican citizenship papers in 2003, Milenio reports, in a piece headlined "The Day of the Chinaman," a headline that demonstrates the enduring, blissfully inappropriate nature of Mexican notions on ethnic difference.
Mexico is now trying to extradite Ye Gon, but his lawyer said today in Washington that if he is returned to Mexico, he faces certain death. And while diplomats and drug agents try to figure out who really owns the $207 million, the cash is in New York, where it is being counted and authenticated -- and accruing interest.