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MEXICO CITY — Mexican prosecutors are investigating former president Enrique Peña Nieto in a case involving suspicious movements of millions of dollars, authorities said Thursday — the first announcement of a corruption probe into the ex-leader.
Pablo Gómez, head of the Treasury Ministry’s financial crimes unit, told a news conference that officials had detected “a scheme through which a former president received economic benefits.” He said the findings had been handed over to the attorney general’s office, which had opened an investigation. Peña Nieto has not been charged with a crime, and responded Thursday that he was innocent.
Gómez said the ex-leader had received 26 million pesos — around $1.3 million — in transfers in 2019 and 2021 from a relative who was making large deposits and withdrawals of cash from a bank account.
Gómez didn’t mention the former president by name, but it was clear he was referring to Peña Nieto, who served as Mexico’s leader from 2012 to 2018. Gómez linked the transfers to two companies connected to the former president’s family that had signs of “fiscal and financial irregularities.” One of those firms maintained a “symbiotic” relationship with a foreign firm that had received around $500 million in government contracts in the years that Peña Nieto was in office, he said.
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No Mexican president has ever been charged with stealing funds, despite a long history of corruption in the government. Peña Nieto’s party was trounced in 2018 in an election seen as a referendum on official graft. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a standard-bearer of the left, won an overwhelming victory by promising to fight such behavior.
Yet he has made limited progress in cleaning up politics. Analysts said it wasn’t clear whether this new investigation would be different — or if it amounted to a maneuver to strengthen López Obrador’s party before state elections next year, and the presidential balloting in 2024.
“This isn’t the first time that somebody in the government has come out to accuse Enrique Peña Nieto, and then later it’s all forgotten,” said Denise Dresser, a political scientist, speaking on the Aristegui Noticias radio program.
Peña Nieto said Thursday that he had “confidence” in the country’s justice system.
“I am certain that the authorities will permit me to clear up any questions about my patrimony, and demonstrate its legality,” he said on Twitter. The former president now lives in Spain.
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Gómez provided few details of the alleged financial irregularities. He declined to name the companies or other individuals involved. He said that Peña Nieto and other family members were stockholders in one — “Business A” — and had created the second firm, “Business B,” before he became president.
Gómez denied any ulterior motives behind the investigation, saying the government wasn’t involved in “political persecution.”
Peña Nieto left office with one of the lowest popularity ratings of any Mexican leader in recent history, after his government was buffeted by a series of corruption scandals.
This is not the first time that Mexicans have fixated on the possible prosecution of a former president. In February 2020, authorities arrested Emilio Lozoya, who had served as Peña Nieto’s campaign finance chief, on charges linked to a corruption scheme carried out by the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. That company has admitted paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.
Lozoya subsequently testified that he had used Odebrecht bribes for Peña Nieto’s campaign and then for payoffs to lawmakers, acting on orders of the ex-president and his treasury secretary, Luis Videgaray. (Both men denied the charge).
But authorities say they haven’t found evidence to back up those claims. Responding to a freedom-of-information request filed by the newspaper El Universal, the attorney general’s office said in April that there was “no investigation of Peña Nieto.”
Source by www.washingtonpost.com