Troubled Azteca hit with $2.4 mil penalty

MEXICO CITY — Broadcaster TV Azteca has been slapped with fines of 27 million pesos ($2.4 million) by Mexico’s securities regulation body in connection with alleged fraud related to a 2003 debt deal that netted its topper and a partner over $200 million.

The fines come a day after Azteca filed criminal charges against Finance Minister Francisco Gil Diaz, whose department also controls the regulator, for “extortion and blackmail” (Daily Variety, April 28).Mexico’s National Banking and Securities Commission (CNBV) has handed down eight sanctions, including three against chairman Ricardo Salinas Pliego, three against former CEO Pedro Padilla and one against TV Azteca, the net said on its Wednesday night news show. It has also fined Unefon, the telco that was involved in the debt refinancing.

The CNBV, Mexico’s equivalent of the SEC, gave few other details but said that “the investigation is now over.”

Its fines come nearly five months after the SEC filed formal fraud charges against Azteca in the U.S. That trial is expected to begin in June.

However, the fines come on the heels of a bizarre series of press conferences and on-air announcements this week in which the net accused Gil Diaz of “abuse of authority, intimidation, attempted extortion” and censorship.

It claims the cabinet-level minister threatened an exec in an unsuccessful attempt to get Azteca to pull an investigative news program about the 2001 sale of Banamex bank to Citigroup.

Gil Diaz called the charges “not only false, but completely the reverse of what happened.”

He said Azteca exec Jorge Mendoza approached the ministry, which oversees the CNBV, demanding the fraud investigation against the net halt to “avoid a train wreck.”

Media analysts interpreted Azteca’s accusations against Gil Diaz as a diversionary tactic planned by Salinas.

Azteca will appeal the fines.

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