Four days before the Mexican government seized oil-services company Oceanografia SA, Chief Executive Officer Amado Yanez took to Twitter, sending posts on martial arts icon Bruce Lee and the Virgin of Guadalupe.
The next post from Yanez, who owns the Mexican professional soccer league’s White Roosters franchise in the central city of Queretaro, was more ominous: “The team isn’t for sale, and there are no plans to move it.”
Oceanografia is now the subject of a fraud investigation after Citigroup Inc. (C), the New York-based bank, said it recorded a $360 million pretax loss on loans to the company against collateral that didn’t exist. Mexico Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said yesterday that the government has taken over management of Oceanografia and that he’s working with financial authorities and Citigroup to establish any criminal responsibility.
Yanez, who hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing, controlled 80 percent of Oceanografia and has run it since 1994, according to regulatory filings. He’s the son of founder Amado Yanez Correa, according to the Mexico City-based newspaper El Economista.
Oceanografia, based in Ciudad del Carmen, provides maintenance and support services for offshore oil projects, with 11,459 workers and at least 69 vessels, including drilling ships and tugboats, according to its website. The company had plans to generate an additional 4,376 new jobs in the next few years, according to the site.
Yanez didn’t respond to an interview request sent through Jorge Betancourt, Oceanografia’s investor-relations head. Betancourt didn’t respond to an e-mailed list of questions, including whether Yanez was the son of Yanez Correa. No one answered a call to the company’s main business line; a greeting said the voicemail box was full and not accepting additional messages.
Yanez’s Twitter account had disappeared as of 6 p.m. yesterday in Mexico City.
Mexico’s anti-corruption agency banned Oceanografia on Feb. 11 from bidding on government contracts for 21 months after saying it violated agreements with the state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, known as Pemex. Oceanografia gets 97 percent of its revenue from Pemex.
After working with Pemex, Citigroup determined that only $185 million of the collateral backing $585 million of loans to Oceanografia could be verified, according to the statement.
“There will be accountability for those who perpetrated this despicable crime and any employee who enabled it,” Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat wrote yesterday in a memo to staff.
Oceanografia’s assets have been impounded, said a Pemex press official who asked not to be identified, citing company policy.
According to a bond prospectus, Yanez got a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1989 and a master’s in marine engineering in 1990, both from Texas A&M University. The elder Yanez, who also earned a master’s from Texas A&M, founded Oceanografia in 1968 and in the early 1970s helped construct the supply of potable water for Holbox island, north of Cancun off of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, according to the prospectus. As of September, he was still serving on the board of directors.
Oceanografia defaulted on its bonds last month after the expiration of a 30-day grace period on a $19 million interest payment due Jan. 15.
As recently as Feb. 14, Yanez led a conference call with investors and analysts to explain his company’s request for an extension of a bond-payment deadline in light of the anti-corruption agency’s probe, which led to a freezing of its bank credit lines.
“The company is working as normal,” Yanez said. At least one unidentified bondholder asked if Yanez was being truthful, according to a transcript. Yanez said a couple times that the company had $50 million in its bank account, before clarifying later in the call that the amount was $15 million.
On Feb. 22, as Oceanografia’s bonds due in 2015 fell to 35 cents on the dollar from 97 cents five weeks earlier, Yanez retweeted a photo of Lee flexing his muscles from the 1973 film, “Enter the Dragon.” The bonds plunged to 17 cents yesterday.
The White Roosters, who play in a 33,000-seat stadium, are 3-1-4 so far in the season that began in January. Yanez, who bought the team in May 2013, hasn’t paid players for more than a month, according to a league press official who asked not to be named, citing league policy. Under the league’s bylaws, Yanez could lose his franchise if convicted of a crime, the official said.
Some Oceanografia employees told the newspaper El Financiero that they hadn’t been paid for two months. Federal authorities entered Oceanografia offices to gather information, El Universal reported.
As criticism of his company from bondholders mounted, Yanez kept up his Twitter account, bearing Oceanografia’s logo, a seahorse.
Yanez retweeted a post from an account called Virgen de Guadalupe, who is Mexico’s patron saint:
“Sometimes you have to risk doing new things,” according to the message. “If you’re right, you’ll be rewarded, and if you’re wrong, it will be a lesson.”
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