1of7Alonso Ancira (C), head of Altos Hornos de Mexico, arrives to court in Palma de Mallorca on May 29, 2019 after being arrested on the Spanish island. – The Mexican executive accused of orchestrating the sale of a defunct business to state oil company Pemex for nearly half a billion dollars was arrested on May 28 on the Spanish island of Mallorca, his firm said. (Photo by STR / AFP)STR/AFP/Getty ImagesPhoto: STR, Contributor / AFP/Getty Images
Two Mexican businessmen with financial ties to San Antonio — one who faces fraud charges and one who moved to Texas after he was accused of pilfering millions from his savings and loan — have been arrested.
Ancira, the cousin of San Antonio auto dealer Ernesto Ancira Jr., faces allegations that he defrauded Mexico’s state-run oil company, Pemex, according to a news release from the Mexican federal prosecutor.
In the second case, immigration officials in San Antonio said they have detained Rafael Olvera Amezcua, the former owner of a failed savings and loan in Mexico.
Olvera has been accused of embezzling as much as $100 million from depositors and moving the money to the U.S. An Express-News investigation in 2015 found companies connected to Olvera purchased more than 100 pieces of real estate in San Antonio and in Florida while the alleged fraud was happening.
Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn’t say why they are holding Olvera, but online records show he’s being held at the South Texas Detention Facility in Pearsall. A Florida lawyer representing him in a civil case said he couldn’t comment.
Olvera, who has kept a low profile and isn’t well known in San Antonio, fled Mexico nearly five years ago after his savings and loan, Ficrea, collapsed into insolvency.
Ancira is better known here through his philanthropy and business deals. A parking tower is named after him at the University of Incarnate Word, and he has funded a San Antonio-based nonprofit, Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together, which focuses on improving binational relations.
Mexico’s treasury department announced before he was arrested last week that it was freezing bank accounts connected to Ancira and former Pemex head Emilio Lozoya Austin. According to Mexican news reports, Ancira faces charges over the sale of a subsidiary of his company, Altos Hornos de Mexico, to Pemex.
A spokesman for the Spanish judiciary said a judge ordered Ancira held in jail while Mexico pursues his extradition.
Pemex, the state-run oil company, bought the Altos Hornos nitrogen producer in 2014 for $275 million. But the Mexican government later criticized the sale, saying the facilities were in a state of disuse and calling some equipment “junk.”
In a statement on its website, Altos Hornos said Pemex officials had been to the site and knew the condition of the plants they were purchasing.
Ancira’s arrest comes as Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office last year, tries to make good on promises to address corruption and impunity. In recent weeks, a prominent federal prosecutor resigned and Mexican officials have announced the investigation of a supreme court justice.
“This is an easy area for Mr. López Obrador to gain points,” said Federico Estévez, a political science professor in Mexico City. “He doesn’t have to succeed at everything, he doesn’t have to tackle everything, but this is low-hanging fruit. It’s important. He needs a few victories.”
Ancira has faced allegations of misconduct in the past, and for nearly two years in the early 2000s lived in Israel to avoid what he called persecution by previous Mexican presidents.
The Alonso Ancira Tower on the UIW campus was completed in 2009. Lou Agnese Jr., the university’s president emeritus, said he hasn’t spoken to Ancira in years and that the donation that earned the steel magnate’s name on the tower came in the form of construction materials.
“It actually was steel, he never gave us any money,” Agnese said.
Ancira also gave $1 million to the San Antonio Archdiocese’s effort to restore the city’s Spanish Missions. But he’s perhaps best known in South Texas for his involvement with a coal mine in Maverick County. The mine, owned by Altos Hornos subsidiary Dos Republicas Coal Partnership, produces coal that is shipped across the border because it’s too low grade to burn in the U.S.
Residents of the border city of Eagle Pass, which is seven miles from the mine, have waged an unsuccessful effort for decades to halt work there.
No one answered the phone at the Southtown offices of Ancira’s nonprofit this week. Neither Ernesto Ancira Jr., Alonso’s cousin, nor former Texas Secretary of State Hope Andrade, both of whom sit on the board of Mexicans and Americans Thinking Together, responded to requests for comment.
In the Olvera case, the Ficrea savings and loan collapsed in 2014 and depositors lost billions of pesos, more than $350 million at the time. Mexico’s banking commission said most of the money was siphoned off to a pair of companies connected to Olvera, who shortly after the insolvency moved to the U.S. and fought criminal charges in Mexico. It is unclear if those charges remain pending.
He owns residences in San Antonio and Florida through limited liability companies, according to a 2016 lawsuit.
A trustee charged with liquidating Ficrea’s assets alleged that $100 million from Ficrea’s depositors was transferred to a pair of Mexican companies controlled by Olvera, then to bank accounts in the U.S. and Europe. The lawsuit asks a judge to turn over to the trustee dozens of Texas and Florida properties, including high-priced condos and a house in the Summerglen gated community north of Stone Oak, allegedly purchased with money stolen from Ficrea’s depositors.
The lawsuit alleges that Olvera used the money to qualify for a foreign investment visa in the U.S., and eventually a provisional green card. The day he was detained in San Antonio, Olvera’s lawyers in Mexico asked judges across the country to block any efforts to arrest or extradite him, according to news reports.
A spokesman for the Mexican attorney general’s office did not respond to questions Friday about whether Olvera has outstanding warrants in that country.