Concern grows as Mexico president talks of investigation

Concern grows as Mexico president talks of investigation

Mexico President Andrs Manuel Lpez Obradors insistence on a public airing of a rapidly widening corruption scandal could complicate the investigation and open the case to criticism that its more about political payback than justice.

MEXICO CITY Mexico President Andrs Manuel Lpez Obradors insistence on a public airing of a rapidly widening corruption scandal could complicate the investigation and open the case to criticism that its more about political payback than justice.

Since the former head of Mexicos state-run oil company was extradited from Spain last month, the president has been saying he wants the public to see the details of the alleged corruption that has now implicated at least three former presidents and more than a dozen other politicians.

The allegations of former Petroleos Mexicanos director Emilio Lozoya neatly target Lpez Obradors two predecessors in the presidency Enrique Pea Nieto and Felipe Caldern and his two opponents in the last election Ricardo Anaya and Jose Antonio Meade as well as pull back the curtain on one of the presidents favorite targets: an energy reform that allowed more private investment in Mexicos state-run oil sector.

Pea Nieto has not commented publicly on the allegations, but the others have issued strong denials.

In essence, Lozoya accused Pea Nieto and his closest associates of using bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht to help win the presidency and then to pass an energy reform that could greatly benefit that company and others. To that end, Mexican some opposition lawmakers were bribed for their votes, he said. Other allegations carried over from the prior administration of Caldern.

Lozoya handled international relations for Pea Nieto’s presidential campaign and then was tapped to run Pemex once Pea Nieto won.

Lpez Obrador wanted the public to see a video Lozoya had given prosecutors and this week somebody it’s not clear who leaked a video showing opposition political operatives stuffing stacks of cash into a duffel bag.

The president wanted Mexicans to read Lozoyas full statement about the alleged corruption during previous administrations. On Wednesday the document leaked to the news media, generating a public furor and promises from the Attorney Generals Office to investigate the leaks.

Former President Caldern placed the allegations squarely in the political realm. He said via Twitter that the documents leak confirms that Lpez Obrador is using Lozoya as an instrument of revenge and political persecution. Justice doesnt interest him, but rather lynching, making in my case ridiculous accusations.

On Thursday, Lpez Obrador repeated his ranking of priorities when it comes to the scandal: first, that everything be known publicly; second, that the stolen public funds be recovered; and third, that there be justice for those who were responsible.

We arent persecuting anyone, Lpez Obrador said. What we want is to end corruption.

Pressed on whether he would be satisfied if the corruption allegations were made public but those involved were not successfully prosecuted, Lpez Obrador said it would be up to the attorney general.

Its an advance to have information, he said. Before, this wasnt known.

In addition to putting many of Lpez Obradors rivals on the defensive, for the past month the scandal has distracted attention from the coronavirus pandemic, in which more than 58,000 people have died in Mexico, and an economy forecast to shrink 10% this year.

The emerging scandal and speculation surrounding it accelerated in July, when Lozoya reached an agreement with Mexican authorities to drop his extradition fight and cooperate with the investigation.

Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero has expressed discomfort with the amount of public commentary the president makes about the case. He is the first attorney general to preside over the office since reforms made it more autonomous.

That actually puts a lot of importance on how Gertz asserts his autonomy from the executive branch, said Maureen Meyer, vice president for programs and director for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America.

In a report published this week, the Washington-based think tank and advocacy group said that probably the biggest reason to give the attorney general more autonomy from the executive branch “was precisely to remove political influence over criminal investigations.

Prosecutors need to collect the evidence to support Lozoyas allegations or it will bolster critics who say the investigation is really just a way to taint political rivals, Meyer said. The constant publicizing of details of the investigation poses a risk. But if Mexico were able to successfully prosecute a former president it would be difficult to overestimate its impact.

It would be a clear sign that Mexico is working to turn the page on tolerance for corruption in the country, she said. But again, it has to be based on evidence that can be proven in court.

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  • First Published: August 20, 2020, 11:58 PM IST
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