Investigations into the murder of a Scotiabank branch manager in Mexico led to the discovery of frauds totaling millions of dollars that implicated numerous Mexican bank employees and executives, CBC’s the fifth estate has learned.
Though this story has been reported in Mexico, there has been virtually no media coverage of the murder or fraud investigations in Canada.
After the body of branch manager Maru Oropesa was found in a roadside ditch outside Mexico City in 2001, Scotiabank executives in Toronto sent bank investigators to Mexico.
They soon discovered that Oropesa was involved in a $5-million fraud with her former boss, Scotiabank executive Jaime Ross.
As the investigation expanded, agents uncovered about $14 million missing from Scotiabank accounts in Mexico and a total of 16 employees involved at almost all levels of the bank – including a cashier, a manager and a vice-president.
Executive sentenced to 15 years in prison
The $5-million taken by Ross and Oropesa was eventually traced to the United States, where the money had been used to purchase three planes. Ross was charged with fraud and money laundering, and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
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But the fifth estate has uncovered new evidence linking Ross to the murder of Oropesa, his former colleague. Mexican cell phone records show that Ross’s phone made or received 38 calls between 1 a.m. and 8 a.m. on Sept. 28, 2001 in an area near where Oropesa’s body was found the following morning.
Mexican police did not investigate Ross’ involvement in her death, but he remains behind bars for fraud.
The 16 other Scotiabank employees found to be involved in fraud were never prosecuted – instead, they were fired.
'There's so much motivation to kill her'
The former Mexican prosecutor told Bob McKeown, host of the fifth estate, that in cases of financial crime against a bank, he could not press charges against bank employees unless the bank itself filed a criminal complaint specifically naming them.
But those 16 bank staff may be some of the most likely witnesses, or even possible suspects, for Oropesa’s murder, according to private investigator Paul Ciolino.
“There’s so much motivation to kill her by these people that it’s ridiculous not to look at them closely,” he said.
In a letter to the fifth estate, Scotiabank's Mexico City lawyer explained his view of the law and how the bank fulfilled its obligations.
Jesus Zamora Pierce writes that Scotiabank filed a criminal complaint before PGR (Office of Mexico's Attorney General) in 2001.
"Under Mexican law, PGR has broad powers to investigate the allegations and, if appropriate, bring criminal action against the person or persons it determines are responsible. Scotiabank cannot file criminal charges against individuals. That is for the PGR to decide," the bank's legal counsel writes.
Scotiabank, which is headquartered in Toronto, has the biggest international presence of any Canadian bank, with 3,000 branches in 55 countries.
The company’s vice president of communications, Diane Flanagan, told McKeown that the bank had done everything possible to solve the case.
“I can assure you that if we felt there was any indication there could’ve been a conviction or further information provided to the authorities that would’ve helped with a conviction, we absolutely would have turned that information over,” she says.