Mexico’s former chief electoral crimes prosecutor has spoken out about his dismissal, claiming he was fired in order to halt investigations into alleged bribery and the suspected illegal funding of a state election campaign by the country’s ruling party.
The federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) removed Santiago Nieto from his position as chief of the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes (Fepade) in October, supposedly for illegally disclosing details about a corruption investigation involving Brazilian company Odebrecht and former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya.
At the time, Nieto was leading the probe into accusations that Lozoya received US $10 million in bribes from Odebrecht, of which up to US $4 million allegedly went to the financing of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s election campaign in 2012.
Lozoya, who worked on the president’s campaign team, and Peña Nieto have denied any wrongdoing.
Nieto was also examining claims that money allegedly embezzled by the former governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte, had been used to finance candidates for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) at state elections in 2016.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Nieto explained the motivation for his dismissal by saying: “I was an annoying prosecutor for the government and they wanted me out.”
He acknowledged that he had made a mistake by publicly misrepresenting the content of a letter sent to him by Lozoya but maintained that the controversy surrounding the letter was part of a broader effort to remove him from office.
He also said that shortly after his dismissal, he was summoned to a meeting at a hotel with a top official from the federal Secretariat of the Interior (Segob) where he was told that the government wanted to maintain a good relationship with him and offered him hush money to tide him over while he didn’t have a job.
“They sought to buy me off to remain silent,” Nieto said. “I just replied, ‘Sorry but I can’t receive any money from Peña Nieto.’”
The Segob official, who no longer works in the government, confirmed to the Journal that he met with Nieto but categorically denied that he offered him any money.
During more than 20 years working as a public official, Jorge Márquez said in a statement that he always acted “with honesty, commitment and dedication.”
Presidential spokesman Eduardo Sánchez declined to comment on the allegations.
Nieto, who is not related to the Mexican president, revealed that attempts to silence him continued after he refused to accept the government’s offer.
The former prosecutor said that his wife told him that she was anonymously sent photographs of him with another woman as well as flirtatious text messages between him and other women. As a consequence, Nieto’s marriage soon ended.
Later, several threatening messages were sent directly to Nieto via the messaging service Telegram.
“Word of advice: Stay out of trouble,” one of the messages said. One of the accounts used had the alias “Death Follows You.” the Journal reported.
Nieto told the newspaper that he has reported the threats to the PGR and explained that he was speaking out because he feared for his life and those of his two teenage daughters.
The head of the anti-corruption association Transparencia Mexicana, Eduardo Bohórquez, said that “Mr. Nieto’s case illustrates the lack of independence of Mexican prosecutors.”
In recent weeks, presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya has also accused the PRI of politicizing the PGR by launching an investigation against him into suspected money laundering.
Since Nieto’s dismissal, no charges related to Odebrecht’s activities in Mexico have been filed despite a promise at the time from acting Attorney General Alberto Elías Beltrán that the investigation was progressing and charges would be coming “in weeks.”
Odebrecht has faced corruption charges in several Latin American countries that have led to criminal charges against former presidents in Brazil and Peru.
During Lozoya’s tenure at Pemex, Odebrecht won contracts with the state oil company worth at least US $1.5 billion whereas previously it had only been awarded one US $317 million contract in 2005, according to public records.
However, the likelihood of a probe into the company’s activities in Mexico claiming the scalp of a high-profile government official, such as Lozoya, or a ruling party politician here appears markedly lower, at least while the current administration remains in office.