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Corrupt Practices in COFEPRIS Led to Layoffs

By Miriam Bello | Wed, 06/08/2022 - 12:46

Thirty-two officials were removed from the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (COFEPRIS) following an anti-corruption operation by the Ministry of the Navy (SEMAR), informed Alejandro Svarch, Head, COFEPRIS.

According to Svarch, SEMAR identified bribes, extortion and the installation of interest groups that created artificial monopolies from the federal dependency. For this reason, new personnel were hired following trustworthy tests and examinations. SEMAR’s operation was carried out last September but made public yesterday during President Andrés Manuel López Obrador morning press conference.

One of the corruption practices involved an area dedicated to extorting pharmaceutical companies that sought the authorization of medicines. “Access to medicines was for sale to the highest bidder. The one who paid more could secure millionaire or multimillionaire profits,” said Svarch.

During the morning press conference, Svarch explained that there were three main corruption levels identified within COFEPRIS. The first was characterized by a discretionary handling of company requests in an “obscure file that was the physical reflection of COFEPRIS's administrative disorganization,” where requests were diverted following bribes. The second involved extorting other companies to continue working. The third, and most unfortunate according to the commissioner, was the direct operation of corruption between groups of officials from foreign trade and the pharmaceutical industry. These practices were also identified within COFEPRIS’ shared state sanitary surveillance.

COFEPRIS monitors the production, commercialization, import, export and marketing of medications, medical devices, pesticides, fertilizers, chemicals and makeup. The commission regulates 44 percent of the food, beverages, tobacco, health care items and personal care items consumed in Mexican households. “According to some estimates, for every 10 pesos spent in Mexico, 4.5 are consumed on products regulated by our health agency,” Svarch said. The products regulated by COFEPRIS represent about 10 percent of Mexico’s GDP. In addition, COFEPRIS regulates health and safety in workspaces and monitors risks derived from environmental factors.

COFEPRIS has undergone many changes in this and previous administrations. Originally, COFEPRIS was born as a federal agency and decentralized body of the government of Mexico, linked to the Department of Regulation and Sanitary Promotion of the Ministry of Health. In Aug. 2021, the commission lost its decentralized status and became part of the Deputy Ministry of Prevention and Health Promotion.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst