President López Obrador has lashed out at a major newspaper and an anti-corruption organization after they published an exposé detailing suspicious dealings by his personal secretary.
The newspaper El Universal and Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) published the same report Monday that revealed that Alejandro Esquer Verdugo hired two front companies to provide logistics services and to put up political advertising at campaign events for López Obrador in Puebla for the 2018 presidential election campaign.
At the time Esquer was the finance secretary of the National Executive Committee of Morena, the party that was founded by López Obrador in 2014. He has worked for López Obrador on and off more than two decades.
The two firms Esquer contracted – Ligieri de México and ENEC Estrategia de Negocios y Comercio – were identified by the Federal Tax Administration this year as ghost, or bogus, companies.
The report published by El Universal and MCCI said the contracts signed by Esquer and the companies were available on Morena’s website until a few days ago.
ENEC was dissolved in October 2018, nine months after it signed contracts with Morena and three months after López Obrador won the presidential election. Ligieri de México was dissolved in February 2019.
The National Action Party, currently Mexico’s main opposition party, filed a complaint with the National Electoral Institute in July 2018 alleging that Morena exceeded permitted pre-campaign expenditure limits by paying Ligieri at least 398,000 pesos for each of 15 rallies for which it provided logistics services.
But Morena said that it only paid the company 36,450 pesos for each event at which it set up a stage, installed security barriers and provided a sound system among other services.
The El Universal/MCCI report said that poor people were listed as the owners of Ligieri and ENEC, presumably without their knowledge.
At his regular news conference on Monday, AMLO, as the president is known, said he had no knowledge of the matter but added that he had no problem with it being investigated. He then claimed that the report was part of a “smear campaign” against his government.
The owner of El Universal and Reforma – a newspaper that the president frequently derides as part of the prensa fifi, or elitist press – are “like moral or spiritual leaders of Frenaaa 1 and Frenaaa 2,” López Obrador said.
Frenaaa is the National Anti-AMLO Front, which established a protest camp in Mexico City’s central square in September. The group López Obrador has dubbed Frenaaa 2 is Sí Por México (Yes for Mexico), a new political movement opposed to the federal government.
López Obrador said the “idol” of Reforma is Carlos Salinas, widely considered one of Mexico’s most corrupt presidents, and claimed that El Universal, which he described as a “dirty” publication, takes inspiration from all corrupt past presidents.
The broadsheet, which describes itself as “the great newspaper of Mexico,” has understood past presidents “very well,” burned incense for them, applauded them and obeyed them but “with us its conduct is not the same,” he said.
The president also took aim at MCCI, charging that it is funded by “powerful businessmen” who don’t pay taxes. He has previously claimed that it has received funding from foreign foundations to oppose the government’s Maya Train railroad project.
The group’s co-founder and former president is Claudio X. González, a businessman and outspoken critic of López Obrador.
AMLO said Monday that MCCI’s funding will be investigated. He claimed last year that the anti-graft group is carrying out a campaign of “sabotage” against his administration.
MCCI responded to the president in a statement, saying that it’s funded by donations that are properly reported to tax authorities.
“MCCI doesn’t operate in opacity,” it said, although it acknowledged that it doesn’t publicly divulge the identity of its donors. The group claimed that López Obrador’s questioning of its funding is designed to “intimidate those who support our work.”
“These actions are one more example of the repeated attempts by the federal government to silence critics, limit freedom of expression and promote polarization,” MCCI said.
MCCI also noted that Claudio X. González hasn’t been its president since July and now has no involvement in the organization.
The group also said that it has no “institutional relationship” with Sí Por México, which González co-founded, but added that “we respect its work.”
MCCI, a member of a collective that launched legal action against the government’s new Mexico City airport project, has published other exposés about corruption in the current federal government.