Additional Azteca fine

Mexico adds to penalties in fraud probe

MEXICO CITY– Mexico’s securities regulator has added an additional 916,500 peso ($82,500) to the fines it has handed out in the wake of investigation of TV Azteca, its officers and related companies for fraud in a debt deal.

The latest fine was levied against telco Unefon, minority held by TV Azteca.

In 2003, Unefon refinanced $325 million in debt that netted its chairman, Moises Saba, and TV Azteca topper Ricardo Salinas Pliego, nearly $220 million in undisclosed profit, an alleged violation of securities laws in Mexico and the U.S.

On Thursday, Mexico’s National Banking and Securities Commission fined TV Azteca, Salinas and other officers $2.4 million in the same probe.

However, the fines are a drop in the ocean compared with the huge profits reaped by Salinas and Saba, and not, as widely hoped, a serious punishment designed to instill investor confidence in Mexican markets.

The probe has had a serious impact on Azteca on the New York Stock Exchange and the Mexican Bolsa, and in terms of market capitalization and market confidence, the effect has been huge.

On Monday Banif Investing downgraded Azteca to “reduce” from “neutral,” citing concerns about net’s legal woes and Salinas’ refusal to step down, despite the negative effect it could have on stockholder value.

Azteca also faces fraud charges filed by the SEC in January; that trial is expected to start June 1.

Salinas and Azteca have repeatedly sworn innocence and say they will appeal the fines.