President López Obrador has denied any knowledge of a corruption investigation into his predecessor Enrique Peña Nieto as The Wall Street Journal reported.
Citing an unnamed senior Mexican judicial official, The Journal reported on Wednesday that the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) is investigating Peña Nieto as part of a case against former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya, who was arrested on corruption charges in Spain last week.
The official said that the FGR has evidence that the corruption of Lozoya – who is accused of benefiting financially from Pemex’s purchase of a fertilizer plant at an allegedly inflated price and receiving US $10 million in bribes from Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht in exchange for a lucrative refinery contract – “reaches to the highest level.”
“The extradition and [any possible] confession of Lozoya are elements that together with ongoing investigations will decide if the former president is charged in the future,” the official told The Journal.
Speaking at his regular news conference on Thursday, López Obrador said that just because The Wall Street Journal reported that an investigation is taking place, doesn’t make it a fact. The newspaper’s reports “are not always accurate,” he said.
The president added that the FGR is now autonomous of the government and therefore has no obligation to inform him of the investigations it is conducting.
López Obrador nevertheless charged that Peña Nieto approved of the state oil company’s purchase of “junk” fertilizer plants at inflated prices and other “juicy business” that members of his government allegedly engaged in.
However, he said that the government would not file a criminal complaint against the former president unless the people of Mexico indicated that was what they wanted.
López Obrador has floated the idea of holding a public consultation to ask citizens if recent past presidents – whom he accuses of all manner of corruption – should stand trial.
“We’ve said that we would only present a complaint against former presidents if the citizens ask us to because we think that we should look forward,” he told reporters on Thursday.
However, the senior judicial official told The Journal that “any case against former presidents” would be brought by the FGR “as an exercise of autonomy, not as a result of President López Obrador’s consultations – they are two worlds: the political and the judicial.”
The Journal, which said that it was unable to reach Peña Nieto for comment while acknowledging that he has denied corruption allegations in the past, noted that if the ex-president is prosecuted, it would be the first time that a modern Mexican president faced corruption charges in court.
Jorge Chabat, a political analyst at the University of Guadalajara, told The Journal that if Peña Nieto were to stand trial, it would happen near the end of López Obrador’s six-year term and likely benefit the ruling Morena party at the next presidential election.
“Bringing Peña Nieto to court would be a political life preserver for this government,” he said.
The former president’s six-year term between 2012 and 2018 was plagued by corruption scandals including the so-called “master fraud” scheme in which government agencies allegedly diverted billions of pesos in public money via shell companies, and the “white house” affair, in which Peña Nieto’s now ex-wife purchased a mansion built by a favored government contractor.
The stench of corruption lingering over Peña Nieto and the Institutional Revolutionary Party government he led was seen as a major factor in López Obrador’s landslide victory at the 2018 presidential election.