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Libel Suit Heightens Mexican IBM Bribery Scandal

AMID allegations of corruption and with a libel suit filed against him, a former Mexican Cabinet minister said this week that he will not become Mexico's ambassador to Britain.

The announcement is the latest event in a widening scandal, under investigation by Mexico's attorney general, over the claim that officials here attempted to bribe a commercial agent for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM).

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Andres Caso Lombardo, in announcing his decision, says he wants "the absolute freedom to defend myself." As Secretary of Communication and Transport, Mr. Caso's ministry oversaw the allegedly tainted bidding process. He was removed from office in March. No official reason was given for his departure.

A writ of summons was filed April 30 in the British High Court by Kaveh Moussavi, the IBM agent, accusing Caso of slander and libel.

Mr. Moussavi is basing the case on Caso's public threat (before the investigation had started) to "throw in jail anyone making accusations of bribery without foundation." Moussavi claims Mexican officials solicited a $1 million bribe from him. He was acting as an agent of IBM, hired to bid on a contract for a $21 million air traffic control system. The alleged bribe request was refused, and IBM lost the bid.

The Mexican Federal Controllers, who initially investigated Moussavi's allegations, said that neither Moussavi nor IBM provided evidence of a bribe. It closed the case on Feb. 19.

IN its first public comment about the affair on May 4, however, the Mexican attorney general's office released a statement saying it had reviewed the documentation and was now seeking to interview Moussavi for the first time in London.

Mexican investigators are working under two opposing assumptions, according to the statement. The first theory is that Moussavi is telling the truth. If his accusations are confirmed, the attorney general says he will "take criminal action against whomever is found responsible."

The other option is that Moussavi is slandering Mexican public servants because he is upset about losing the bid. If the second hypothesis proves true, the attorney general vows to prosecute Moussavi because "it is impossible to accept that anyone could commit slander with impunity."

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Moussavi prickles at the open threat, which seems to accompany every government statement about him. "Andres Caso vowed to counterattack. Although he claims to do so now as a private citizen, it is clear he has the full weight of the Mexican government backing him," says Moussavi in a telephone interview from his home in Oxford, England.

"I'm launching the lawsuit, not just to clear my name, but to put the government of Mexico on trial," says Moussavi. "I want to expose what happens when you try to do business in Mexico. The moral is: Beware and take the bribe when it is offered or they will get you."

Moussavi claims his efforts have generated death threats against him and his family.

Caso raised eyebrows here by appearing in a government organized press conference with Interior Minister Jose Patrocinio Gonzalez Garrido at his side.

Moussavi characterizes the presence of Mr. Patrocinio Gonzalez as meant to "intimidate Mexican journalists" and deems the sudden interest by the attorney general's office as part of a counterattack to support Caso.

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