A company owned by the son of Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) chief Manuel Bartlett has been awarded at least seven government contracts worth 162 million pesos (US $6.7 million), writes Mexican journalist Carlos Loret de Mola in The Washington Post.
In an opinion piece published on Sunday, Loret de Mola wrote that León Manuel Bartlett Álvarez, owner of Cyber Robotics Solutions, most recently received a “spectacular gift” from the federal government on April 30.
Last Thursday, the government awarded the company a 94.9-million-peso contract to supply ultrasound machines to the State Workers Social Security Institute (ISSSTE), Loret de Mola said, emphasizing that there was no competitive tendering process for the lucrative contract.
According to an ISSSTE document published on the government’s online transparency platform CompraNet, the contract was to be signed today.
According to information on CompraNet, Bartlett Álvarez’s company also has other contracts with ISSSTE as well as others with the army, navy and the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS).
The two other contracts with ISSSTE, both to supply medical equipment, are worth a combined 340,000 pesos and both were awarded without a competitive bidding process.
A 23.4-million-peso Ministry of National Defense maintenance contract was also directly assigned to Cyber Robotics, Loret de Mola wrote. In addition, a 4.9-million-peso contract with the Ministry of the Navy was assigned to Bartlett Álvarez’s company without it having to submit a bid.
Cyber Robotics Solutions was also awarded an 8.2-million-peso IMSS contract in February to provide maintenance of surgical robots at a Mexico City hospital. In contrast to most others, that contract was awarded after a bidding process.
Another IMSS contracted awarded to Cyber Robotics is garnering particular attention because it has direct relevance to the coronavirus pandemic and suggests that Bartlett Álvarez made an excessive profit from the deal.
The company won a 31-million-peso contract in April to supply 20 ventilators to IMSS. According to Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI), an anti-graft group, the per unit price of 1.5 million pesos was the highest paid by the government for ventilators since the beginning of the pandemic in Mexico.
Another supplier sold similar ventilators to IMSS last month for just 880,000 pesos, or less than 60% of the price paid to Bartlett Álvarez.
President López Obrador said on Monday that there will be an investigation into whether the company sold overpriced ventilators to the government, but suggested there was an ulterior motive to the story.
“In this case, the Public Administration Ministry has to do its job, do its investigation and if it shows that this person is responsible, he will have to be sanctioned just like the official who gave this contract,” he said. “But what I want to underline, what’s behind this, is this desire to weaken our government.”
Bartlett Álvarez rejected the allegations in a letter posted to Twitter, the news agency Reuters reported. He said that the contracting process was transparent and that the ventilator prices were reasonable, adding that others supplied by other companies have sold for more.
However, Loret de Mola wrote that the fact that several contracts were awarded to the son of a high-ranking public official calls into question the government’s stated commitment to fight corruption.
“Although nothing illegal has yet been proven in Bartlett’s son’s contracts with the federal government, the amounts raise suspicions,” he said.
Similar behavior during the administration of past governments were severely criticized by President López Obrador when he was an opposition leader, he said.
“The president has said that he arrived to clean up the system, that legality is not enough but rather he demands morality and ethics. [Manuel] Bartlett is the face that takes the president’s anti-corruption discourse to pieces,” Loret de Mola wrote.
The journalist noted that two reports last year revealed that the CFE director – a former federal cabinet minister, senator, governor of Puebla and secretary general of the Institutional Revolutionary Party – had failed to declare that he, his partner and his son León are the owners of 23 houses and 12 companies.
“The affair became a scandal,” Loret de Mola said, because since then the main tenet of “lópezobradorismo” – combating corruption – was called into doubt.