President López Obrador confirmed Tuesday that the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) sought an arrest warrant for former cabinet minister Luis Videgaray in connection with a bribery case but was blocked by a judge.
Videgaray served as finance minister in the first four years of the 2012-2018 government of former president Enrique Peña Nieto and foreign affairs minister in the final two.
Former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya, currently awaiting trial on corruption charges, has accused Peña Nieto and Videgaray of leading a bribery scheme that collected multi-million-dollar payments from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.
The request for a warrant for Videgaray’s arrest is based on information Lozoya submitted to the FGR.
According to the news website Latinus, which first reported the rejected warrant request, the FGR wants to arrest Videgaray on five charges.
One charge is related to an electoral crime, two involve bribery, one is for criminal association and the fifth is for treason.
The FGR accuses Videgaray of committing an electoral crime by delivering more than US $1.6 million in bribes to Peña Nieto’s 2012 campaign.
One bribery charge is related to the former official allegedly helping Peña Nieto to secure more than US $5.8 million and 84 million pesos in bribes from Odebrecht and Braskem, a petrochemical company that is a subsidiary of the Brazilian conglomerate.
Videgaray and Peña Nieto allegedly used the money for “wrongful acts related to their roles.”
The second bribery charge is related to Videgaray allegedly handing over more than 120 million pesos to lawmakers in exchange for supporting the former government’s 2014 energy reform that opened up the sector to foreign and private companies.
The criminal association charge is related to his alleged dealings with Odebrecht and the lawmakers who are accused of taking bribes.
The treason charge is also related to the bribes that were allegedly paid to the lawmakers. The FGR accuses Videgaray of subjugating “the integrity of the nation to foreign persons” by paying off lawmakers to support the energy reform.
If convicted on that charge, the former minister could be jailed for up to 40 years.
According to the FGR, Peña Nieto entered into an agreement with Videgaray to “implement an organized apparatus of power … to obtain benefits that affect the sovereignty of Mexico, subjugating it to national and foreign persons and groups.”
The federal government intends to hold a referendum next year at which citizens will be asked whether past presidents should face justice for crimes they allegedly committed while in office.
Latinus said it was informed by high-ranking judicial sources that the FGR’s request for an arrest warrant for Videgaray was rejected because it lacked the “necessary legal support.”
López Obrador said much the same at his morning news conference.
“I have been informed that a request of this nature was made to the judiciary, but the request was rejected,” he said. “My understanding is that the judge sent the request back to the Attorney General’s Office.”
Latinus said that the warrant application could be reformulated by the FGR but López Obrador said he was uncertain if a new warrant could be requested.
Videgaray is the highest ranking official that the FGR has sought to arrest in connection with the Odebrecht case.
He has rejected the accusations Lozoya made against him, describing them in an August statement as “false, absurd, inconsistent and reckless.”
“Lozoya’s accusations are invented lies to try to get out of the consequences of his own actions,” he wrote.
Videgaray hasn’t publicly commented on the revelation that the FGR sought a warrant for his arrest.
The former minister worked as an academic at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) after serving in the former government but according to a columnist for the newspaper El Universal he left that job and traveled to Israel on October 10.
A group of recent Mexican alumni of MIT and current students called for his resignation in an open letter published in September.
“It may or may not be the case that Videgaray will ever be found guilty by a judge of committing crimes himself. However, the breadth and depth of credible accusations against him raise serious doubts over his moral authority to lead research projects,” the letter said.
“… MIT should end Videgaray’s appointments.”
Despite the letter, MIT management said that they supported Videgaray’s ongoing tenure at the university.