The head of the federal government’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) has resigned in the wake of controversy surrounding his lavish wedding celebrations in Guatemala last weekend.
Santiago Nieto, President López Obrador’s anti-corruption czar, announced his resignation on Twitter on Monday night, explaining that he didn’t want to have a negative impact on the government’s project to transform Mexico.
“Due to criticisms derived from the actions of third parties related to a personal and transparent event, I decided to present my resignation as head of the UIF. My loyalty is with President López Obrador, my love for [my new wife] Carla Humphrey,” he wrote.
Nieto’s resignation came after some of his wedding guests – who flew south on the same private jet – were detained at the Guatemala City airport because police found US $35,000 in undeclared cash in a suitcase that belonged to the personal assistant of the general director of El Universal, one of Mexico’s leading daily newspapers.
Erika Telich told police that the money belonged to her boss, Juan Francisco Ealy, and that he took it to Guatemala because he planned to use it to pay for medical expenses in Los Angeles, where he intended to travel on Monday after the wedding.
Guatemalan authorities confiscated the cash, which may in fact have been a gift for the newlyweds, according to media speculation.
Another wedding guest, now-former Mexico City tourism minister Paola Félix Díaz, resigned due to the optics of flying into the Guatemalan capital on a private jet when she is the member of a government that – like its federal counterpart – holds itself up as an example of austerity and rectitude.
Although Nieto attributed his resignation to the actions of others, questions have been raised about his capacity to pay for a sumptuous wedding at an exclusive hotel in Antigua, a pretty colonial city just outside Guatemala City. Regardless of whether he paid for it or not, it didn’t look good for the federal government’s anti-corruption chief to host such an extravagant wedding.
López Obrador, who frequently rails against the excesses of past officials and quips “there can’t be a rich government with poor people,” described the events in Guatemala as a “scandalous affair” and advised officials to act with “moderation and austerity.”
The departure of Nieto is a blow for the president, who has used the UIF as a spearhead in his fight against corruption. The 48-year-old former electoral crimes prosecutor worked closely with the federal Attorney General’s Office on high-profile corruption probes such as the Odebrecht case, which threatens to ensnare numerous high-profile former officials.
Nieto’s tenure at the helm of the UIF was not, however, devoid of controversy. Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero last year indirectly accused him of failing to respect the right to the presumption of innocence after he made public remarks about cases involving ex-cabinet secretary Rosario Robles, ex-Pemex chief Emilio Lozoya and ex-Pemex workers’ union leader Carlos Romero Deschamps, among other high-profile former officials.
Pablo Gómez, a 75-year-old former lawmaker considered a close ally of López Obrador, is the new head of the UIF, the president’s office said in a statement.
Gómez is also a National Autonomous University-trained economist and a professor, the office noted, adding that he is well known for his “career in favor of social causes and human rights beginning with the students’ movement of 1968.”