Mexico’s second-wealthiest man, Germán Larrea Mota-Velasco, has led Grupo México for a quarter of a century.
Germán Larrea Mota-Velasco is the executive president and CEO of Grupo México, the largest private mining company in Latin America which, in addition to Mexico, operates in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Spain, Peru and the US.
Larrea Mota-Velasco has had a long, prolific career in business. He founded Grupo Impresa, a printing and publishing company in 1978, where he remained as chairman and CEO until 1989 when the company was sold. He served as CEO of the Southern Copper Corporation from 1999 until 2004.
He has been been chairman and CEO of Empresarios Industriales de Mexico, oil drilling company Compania Perforadora Mexico, construction company Mexico Compania Constructora, and real estate investment trust Fondo Inmobiliario since 1992. He is also actively involved in the banking sector, as director of Banco Nacional de Mexico, which forms part of Grupo Financiero Citibanamex, and Mexico’s Grupo Televisa, Latin America’s largest private TV network.
According to Forbes, Larrea Mota-Velasco’s net worth is $17.3 billion, putting him in 95th place on the magazine’s billionaires’ ranking. He is Mexico’s second wealthiest man after telecoms magnate Carlos Slim.
Forbes has called Germán Larrea Mota-Velasco “Mexico’s most mysterious multimillionaire,” and his low public profile affords him the luxury of eating out and traveling without being accosted, both abroad and at home. He has residences both in Mexico and the US (in Miami and Chicago), and is married with at least two adult children, but aside from those details, little is known of his life, with very few photographs of Larrea Mota-Velasco in existence, save, notably, the one taken with former president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18), which was republished by Forbes.
"Mexico’s second wealthiest man after telecoms magnate Carlos Slim, Larrea Mota-Velasco's low public profile affords him the luxury of eating out and traveling without being accosted, both abroad and at home"
Sonora spillage scandal
However, the businessman was reluctantly thrust into the spotlight in 2014 following a spillage of 40 million liters of copper sulphate into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, close to the US border, from the Grupo México Buenavista del Cobre copper mine, an incident which has been described as the worst ecological disaster in Mexico’s history.
Grupo México was heavily criticized for the spillage, which affected more than 22,000 people, leaving hundreds of households without access to clean water, and for its lack of an apology, but the company eventually agreed to pay $150 million into a fund for environmental repair work.
The Mexican government of the time, led by President Peña Nieto, was also criticized for its failure to impose sanctions on Grupo México over the spillage. On the fifth anniversary of the disaster, in August 2019, Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, pledged to launch an investigation into the incident.
The Sonora spillage is not the first time Grupo México has faced criticism, however, with the country’s environment ministry (Semarnat) having catalogued 22 incidents in which the company has caused environmental damage, most recently in July 2019 when one of the company’s mines was found to have caused a sulfuric acid spill into the Sea of Cortés.Grupo México has denied responsibility for the majority of those incidents.
The company was also implicated in an explosion at its Pasta de Conchos mine in Coahuila state in 2006 in which 66 miners died, one of the country’s worst mining disasters. Grupo México insists incident as an accident, and in 2020 transferred the concession for the operation of the coal mine back to the government.
In October, Manuel Bartlett, the chief executive of Mexico’s state power utility CFE, announced that the government would carry out a new search for the bodies of the missing miners in 2022, as well as pay reparations to their relatives.