Former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya told a federal court Tuesday that he was innocent of all corruption charges leveled against him and that he would present evidence to prove it.
Lozoya, head of the state oil company between 2012 and 2016, today faced his first court hearing since he was extradited to Mexico by Spain 11 days ago.
He appeared before a judge via video link from a private hospital in Mexico City where he is being treated for anemia, an esophagus problem and general weakness.
Reporters have been barred from attending the hearing due to the coronavirus pandemic but judicial authorities are informing the media of proceedings via the messaging service WhatsApp.
Prosecutors with the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) formally accused Lozoya of receiving a payment in excess of US $3 million from the president of Altos Hornos de México, a company from which Pemex purchased a rundown fertilizer plant in 2015 at an allegedly vastly inflated price.
The prosecutors claimed that Lozoya used part of the “illicit resources” to purchase a 38-million-peso (US $1.7 million at today’s exchange rate) home in Lomas de Bezares, an affluent Mexico City neighborhood.
They submitted an application to the court for the former Pemex CEO to stand trial on the corruption charges.
The prosecutors also informed the ex-official that the FGR is investigating his sister, Gilda Susana Lozoya, and Altos Hornos de México president Alonso Ancira, in relation to the property purchase.
In response, Lozoya told the court that he had decided not to fight his extradition to Mexico so that he could clear his name of all the charges of which he is accused.
(He is also accused of receiving multi-mullion-dollar bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht in exchange for awarding it a lucrative refinery contract.)
“I will prove that I am not responsible for nor guilty of the crimes of which I am accused,” Lozoya said.
He said that he declared the Lomas de Bezares residence – where his parents live – to the Ministry of Public Administration at the start of his tenure at Pemex, effectively asserting that he didn’t purchase it at the time the FGR claims.
Lozoya added that he will defend himself against the accusation that he received a bribe from Altos Hornos de México when the time comes for him to present evidence to the court.
He told the court that he was willing to cooperate with authorities in their investigation into corruption during the 2012-18 government of former president Enrique Peña Nieto but claimed that he has been “systematically” intimidated and pressured to do so. Lozoya said that he will denounce those who have attempted to intimidate him.
Earlier on Tuesday, President López Obrador described Lozoya’s appearance in court as a “watershed” moment in his government’s crusade against corruption.
“It’s a very important case,” he told reporters at his regular news conference, adding that it will help shed light on acts of government corruption that occurred while his predecessor was in office.
López Obrador said last week that Lozoya must be protected because his cooperation with authorities could endanger his life.
At the end of last week, the newspaper Reforma reported that Lozoya had told the FGR that Odebrecht funded the 2012 political campaign of Peña Nieto to the tune of US $4 million and gave another $6 million to his government after he took office.
The former Pemex CEO alleged that part of the latter payment was used to bribe National Action Party lawmakers to ensure that the former government’s energy reform passed Congress. PAN politicians denied the claim.
According to Reforma, Lozoya told the FGR before his return to Mexico that Peña Nieto and former cabinet secretary Luis Videgaray directly led the bribery scheme.
Peña Nieto, whose government was plagued by scandals, has rejected claims that he acted corruptly while in office.
López Obrador said last week that he had no intention of pursuing the former president, although the FGR, which in theory acts independently of the government, could seek to build a case against him.