In March of 2015, Donald Trump wrote to his more than 4.5 million Twitter followers: “Because of Rodolfo Rosas Moya, who owes me lots of money, Mexico will never again host the Miss Universe Pageant.”
This message may hold the key to the disdain Trump has shown toward the Mexican people. The story behind the Tweet is a complicated lawsuit between the Miss Universe Organization, where Trump was the majority stockholder, and several Mexican entrepreneurs.
Rodolfo Rosas Moya, the person that was fully identified and attacked in Trump’s Tweet, is an urban development engineer in a prosperous tourist area on Mexico’s Caribbean, known as the Riviera Maya. Rosas, age 60, was part of a group of area investors who were successful in having the Miss Universe Pageant choose Cancún in 2007 as one of the venues for the beauty contest in Mexico. These investors believed the contest would help to project to the world once again the area’s tourism image, which had suffered noticeably as a result of the pounding it had received from Hurricane Wilma the year before.
The Miss Universe Organization signed a contract calling for Grupo Promotor MU México to act as host and a contract with Mexican entrepreneur Pedro Rodríguez and with the firm Comercializadora Ronac for guaranteeing sponsorships. Rosas is a Ronac stockholder. The Mexicans agreed to secure sponsorships for the contest from the municipal governments of Mexico City and Cancún, and from the state of Chiapas. They also assumed responsibility for organizing the management of the event, which is viewed by a television audience of more than one billion. The three city and state governments contributed a total of 6.5 million dollars. In order to guarantee payment by the states, the entrepreneurs provided a number of houses and vacant lots owned by them.
Understanding the way in which the preparation for the contest was carried out depends on who tells the story. The lawyer for the Miss Universe in Mexico, Juan Francisco Torres-Landa, claimed it was a disaster.
“The contest was so poorly organized and so lacking that there was a possibility, or we considered the possibility, of having to cancel it,” stated Torres-Landa.
But Rosas affirms that there were no major problems, except for the usual problems that always crop up at this kind of event.
“When the contest was over, and during the days leading up to that, I did not discover that there had been a problem. Everything was very cordial,” he said. “There wasn’t even a single complaint after the contest.”
According to the contest’s assistant producer, Gabriel Chino, there were no problems as far as he was concerned. “Right after the show ended, [the general producer] thanked us and told us the Mexican team he had worked with had been the best team he had worked with anywhere in the world.”
The fact remains that the complaints by the Trump organization were not immediately filed in any courts in Mexico or the United States.
However, two years and four months after the contest, and much to Rosas’s surprise, the Miss Universe lawyer managed to put a lien on 25 vacant lots belonging to Comercializadora Ronac, the company that held title to the properties that had been provided as collateral to guarantee payment by the states.
Rosas explains that the worst part of all is that the lots which had been placed under a lien were not the ones that had been set aside as collateral.
“What they have done, in a cunning way, is create a cautionary lien. What is a cautionary lien? I embargo or freeze your properties while we clarify whether or not that company owes me anything,” explained Rosas. “But that’s not affecting me, and well, not me, but it’s affecting the property owners that are going to buy the lots.”
The contest’s lawyer, who maintained that he had made every effort to arrive at a friendly agreement, casts doubt on the story that the legal action had come as a surprise.
“Our intentions were unsuccessful, basically because the calls were not being answered or because, whenever there was an answer, that answer was evasive. ‘I’ll get back to you right away,’ or ‘Wait awhile, I’m already working out a solution.’”
According to Rosas, the hardest blow came later. In October of 2014 the Miss Universe succeeded in having an arbitration court in New York rule against the defendant companies in the amount of 12 million dollars for failure to comply with the contract for acting as host.
The arbitration ruling describes in detail a long list of alleged breaches of contract by the defendants. It accuses them of failing to provide timely payment of sponsorships, surety bonds and rent for some of the facilities, and failure to set up the production offices; failure to hire security personnel and failure to cover food and lodging for the contestants, production costs and airfare.
According to the arbitration ruling, “Rodríguez, Rosas and others had used many of the airline tickets for their personal trips.”
The legal tale after the curtain was lowered upon completion of the contest has grown increasingly complicated over time.
During the past six years, the lawsuit has filled up several volumes in parallel trials in Mexico and the United States, where both parties have won part of the battle, yet nobody has managed to collect a single penny.
Going back and forth from one country to the other, there are obvious differences in the story. For example, the arbitration ruling in New York accuses the Mexican organizers of failing to contribute the first million dollars that were to go to the Miss Universe as part of the payment.
According to this account, the Mexicans obtained the money from the government of Quintana Roo, where the Riviera Maya is located, and delivered it to the Miss Universe “in late December of 2007.”
In Mexico, the story is different. Nine months before this date, as attested thereto in New York, the Miss Universe representatives had signed another document where they acknowledged they already had control of those million dollars. In their ruling, the arbitrators in the United States did not reflect any analysis that would clarify this difference.
The battle of the lawyers has focused on what would be the real number of vacant lots to which the Miss Universe had rights as part of the collateral. The plaintiffs affirm that these consist of 25 lots belonging to Rosas’ company, located in an urban area near Playa del Carmen, a paradisiac spot on the Mexican Caribbean. The defense counsel for the Mexican entrepreneur replies that there are only six. A document, a copy of which Univision obtained, pertaining to the initial venture signed by the organizers and Rosas in March of 2007 would say that the Miss Universe is right.
These 25 lots are mentioned there, even though it also says that only “some were to be deeded over” to the contest.
But another document signed a month later, and also in the hands of this news medium, radically changes the story. Only six lots are specified as being a financial commitment by the company belonging to urban developer Rosas.
During the litigation, counsel for the defense of the Miss Universe has challenged the validity of the signature on this second document. The Mexicans insist this is an incorrect claim. Their argument: the president of the Miss Universe Organization, Paula Shugart, had signed a letter instructing HSBC Bank to conduct the necessary transactions before the public registry in order to take possession of six vacant lots, not 25.
Businessman Rosas had his own hypothesis. He does not discard the possibility that Trump’s true intention is to take over the area’s vacant lots, whose real estate value has increased considerably. Rosas remembers that on one occasion Shugart had told him that Donald Trump had mentioned the possibility of building a Trump Tower on the Riviera Maya.
Violeta Márquez, a realtor with Sotheby’s International Riviera Maya, confirms the enormous increase in real estate values in the region, which has become a summer place for stars such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Adam Sandler and Justin Timberlake.
“In the matter of prices there has also been a large increase because, despite the supply being quite ample, the demand definitely exceeds the supply,” she recounted when interviewed.
Torres-Landa qualified Rosas’ suspicions as being “absurd” because, as he explained, what the contest organization wants is to have the banks foreclose on the lots and thus receive payment from them.
Trump is openly distrustful of Mexican justice. Last February, in a Tweet containing these accusations, he wrote: “I have a lawsuit in Mexico’s corrupt court system that I won but so far can’t collect. Don’t do business with Mexico!”
The message caused much controversy because it was posted two days after Mexican movie director Alejandro González Iñárritu had won the Oscar as best director and for best movie, with his Birdman film.
It was the beginning of a long chain of discrediting statements directed against Mexico, which have marked a part of Trump’s run-up to the presidential campaign and led to networks Univision and NBC cancelling their contracts for broadcasting the Miss Universe.
Mexican corporate lawyer Carlos Odriozola analyzed several documents pertaining to the lawsuits over the vacant lots in Playa del Carmen upon request by Univision. He considers all the scenarios that have been set forth thus far in the litigation to be normal.
“The fact that there are several trials underway does not mean there is any corruption,” he explained. “When there are people, or plaintiffs, who do not quickly obtain the best possible results they expect, sometimes it is too easy to blame the judge.”