Why Luis Videgaray must leave MIT
Dear members and friends of the MIT community,
One year ago, MIT was embroiled in the horrifying scandal involving child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. This led to the departure of MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito. Today, another scandal-ridden faculty member holding a leadership position at the Institute is bringing turmoil to MIT: Mexican politician Luis Videgaray Caso. The scandals include corruption, abuse of power, criminal association, electoral crimes, money laundering, and conflicts of interest.
Who is Luis Videgaray?
Before coming to MIT, Luis Videgaray was Mexico’s Finance Minister (2012–2016) and then Foreign Minister (2017–2018) during Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency. Luis Videgaray was also the Secretary of Finance for the State of Mexico from 2005–2009, when Peña Nieto governed the state, and campaign coordinator for Peña Nieto’s 2012 presidential run.
Videgaray joined MIT in July of 2019 as a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and as a distinguished fellow of the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative. Most significantly, he was appointed Director of the AI Policy for the World (AIPW) Project, a joint program between the Sloan School and the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing (SCC). (Schwarzman, who donated $350 million to found the SCC, was awarded the Orden Mexicana del Aguila Azteca — the highest honor granted to foreigners by the Mexican government — in November 2018 by Mexico’s then Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray).
Videgaray was hired to lead the AIPW project as an “expert in geopolitics and AI policy” who would further the SCC’s stated mission: to “position [MIT] as a key player in the responsible and ethical evolution of technologies that will fundamentally transform society.” In particular, Videgaray and the AIPW would strive to “make AI’s ethical impact ‘a truly global discussion,’” and “explore the best AI policies for countries around the world based on various geopolitical considerations,” as well as considerations of “societal implications” and of how to “uphold democracy.”
Videgaray’s Involvement in Corruption
MIT praised Videgaray’s political career when it hired him. However, he has been the subject of multiple journalistic investigations and lawsuits involving him and the government ministries he has led in corrupt schemes. The following is an incomplete list of such investigative reports and lawsuits that implicate Videgaray personally and/or the ministries under his leadership:
Misappropriation of public funds. Embezzlement and laundering of funds allegedly from the Finance Ministry (during Videgaray’s tenure as Finance Minister) in order to fund 2016 gubernatorial campaigns for the then ruling party, the PRI. Journalists have compiled documents showing how, in multiple PRI state governments, millions of dollars in public funds were diverted to shell companies through fraudulent government contracts. They also revealed that some implicated officials testified in court that the money paid to these shell companies was knowingly authorized by the Federal Finance Ministry and was used for electoral purposes.
Videgaray allegedly allowed the creation of a bank by former Chihuahua governor Cesar Duarte (currently detained and facing charges for his role in the abovementioned scheme to divert funds for PRI campaigns) in order to launder money. Once Duarte was charged in Mexico and requests were sent to the US State Department for his extradition to Mexico, Videgaray, who was the Foreign Minister at the time, contributed to delays in the fulfillment of these requests, according to journalists.
Conflict of interest. Irregular purchase of a luxury home from Grupo Higa, a construction company with government ties.
Misappropriation of public funds. Audited irregularities in funds granted to Mexican consulates by the Foreign Ministry during Videgaray’s tenure.
Corruption and conflict of interest. Partnerships and agreements with BlackRock and Larry Fink with at least one without a transparent and competitive bidding process.
Complicity in corruption, bribes, and criminal association surrounding government concessions to the construction firm OHL to build an elevated highway in the State of Mexico in 2008, when Videgaray was the state’s Finance Secretary. Filed on November 24, 2016. So far, Mexico’s Office of the Attorney General has confirmed that the concessions to OHL were in fact illegal, although it has not confirmed Videgaray’s complicity. See also this essay on the OHL scandal.
Irregularities in government concessions for the Project of Technological Integration of Customs (Proyecto de Integración Tecnológica Aduanera, or PITA). Filed on January 10, 2020. The Superior Auditor of the Federation has also reported irregularities in these government concessions.
Most recently, as of August 11, 2020, Videgaray, together with Peña Nieto, is being formally investigated by Mexico’s Office of the Attorney General. The investigations stem from testimony and evidence offered to the Attorney General by Emilio Lozoya Austin (the former director of state oil company PEMEX when Videgaray, as Finance Minister, sat on PEMEX’s board of directors) during his own trial for corrupt dealings with the Brazilian builder Odebrecht. Videgaray, along with Peña Nieto, is accused of funneling millions of dollars in bribes from Odebrecht first into Peña Nieto’s campaign, and then later into the pockets of legislators in order to ensure their support for Peña Nieto’s major structural reforms. According to some legal experts, these investigations could result in charges against Videgaray and the former president as severe as organized crime.
It may or may not be the case that Videgaray will ever be found guilty by a judge of committing crimes himself. However, the breadth and depth of credible accusations against him raise serious doubts over his moral authority to lead research projects about social, ethical, and political consequences of AI policy, let alone to explore the “best” AI policies for “upholding democracy” in other countries.
The pursuits of scientific knowledge and technological development must be joined at the hip by a commitment to ethics. Otherwise, they can serve to intensify injustices, inequalities, and abuses of power. By employing Videgaray, whose ethical standing is in serious question, MIT is needlessly undermining its own moral authority to steer scientific progress towards the betterment of society, as well as its integrity as an institution that handles public funds.
As such, MIT should end Videgaray’s appointments as senior lecturer, as director of the AIPW Project within Sloan and the College of Computing, and as distinguished fellow at the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative.
Neither MIT nor any other institution is perfect. However, concrete actions such as this can have a positive impact institutionally, nationally, and internationally, as well as individually for many members of this great community. Corruption and impunity are not to be condoned. MIT should not risk sending the message that politicians across the world can abuse their power while in office, and then be rewarded with important positions at U.S. institutions.
To see the list of current signatories to this letter and to learn how to add your name or organization, go here.
The main authors of this letter, in alphabetical order by last name:
Patricia Arnal Luna SM ’20 graduated with an MSc in Engineering and Management from MIT and is an environmental sustainability consultant.
Rodrigo Escandón Cesarman SM ’20 graduated with an SMArchS in Architectural Design from the MIT Department of Architecture.
Leonardo Escudero MBA ’20 graduated with an MBA and a Healthcare Certificate from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Alonso Espinosa Domínguez ’20 graduated from MIT with a BS in Mathematics.
This letter is also available in Spanish.