Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has denied any wrongdoing after becoming engulfed in another scandal involving luxury properties, government contractors and accusations of conflict of interest.
An investigation by the Wall Street Journal revealed on Tuesday that Peña Nieto purchased a house at an exclusive country club in Ixtapan de la Sal in his native Mexico state just weeks after becoming governor of the state in 2005.
Peña Nieto bought the property from Roberto San Roman, a businessman whose construction company went on to win over $100 million in state government contracts from 2005 to 2011. The same firm, Constructora Urbanizadora Ixtapan (CUISA), which had never before carried out federal projects, has also won at least 11 federal contracts since Peña Nieto became president in late 2012.
Peña Nieto’s office released a statement on Wednesday affirming that the house was purchased legally at full market value of $372,000 and publically disclosed among his assets. However, the identity of the seller of the property had not been known until now, the Wall Street Journal reported.
CUISA has denied that the sale of the property resulted in it gaining favored status under the Peña Nieto administration. The company said it won the contracts by offering the most competitive bids and emphasized that it has launched another 48 unsuccessful bids for federal contracts since Peña Nieto became president.
Three months of similar scandals
Peña Nieto’s office stated that he is not involved in the awarding of public contracts, but this is not the first time that he or those close to him have made use of luxury homes provided by favored contractors.
In November it emerged that Peña Nieto’s wife, the former soap star Angélica Rivera, had obtained a $7 million mansion in Mexico City from Grupo Higa, a firm that won contracts worth more than $590 million during Peña Nieto’s tenure as governor of the State of Mexico.
Grupo Higa was also part of the Chinese-led consortium awarded a controversial contract worth $3.75 billion to build a high-speed rail line between Mexico City and Querétaro. Rivera denied any wrongdoing but vowed to sell the property, while the train line contract was swiftly rescinded amid accusations that the bidding process had been rigged.
Later in November it transpired that in 2011 and 2012 Peña Nieto had also benefitted from rent-free use of another luxury property in Mexico City owned by Grupo Higa.
Then, in December, the Wall Street Journal revealed that just two months before taking office, Mexico’s Finance Minister, Luis Videgaray, had bought another mansion at an exclusive golf course in the State of Mexico from the owner of Grupo Higa.
Under pressure at home, but still feted abroad
This string of revelations led to widespread criticism and allegations that the Peña Nieto administration has been trading favors for influence.
Senator Javier Lozano of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) called on Wednesday for the appointment of an independent special prosecutor to investigate Pena Nieto’s properties.
With state and legislative elections looming in June, Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has implied that rival politicians were responsible for leaking the latest story to the press in a bid to taint the government.
While polls indicate his administration has lost support in Mexico in recent months, Peña Nieto continues to receive the support of prominent world leaders like Barack Obama.
Despite the ongoing property scandals and concerns over widespread human rights violations in Mexico, Obama welcomed the Mexican president to the White House earlier this month.
“I’ve congratulated President Peña Nieto on some of his structural reforms that I think will unleash even further the enormous potential of the Mexican economy,” Obama said, while avoiding direct reference to the public security crisis that has gripped the country.