The federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) dismissed its top electoral crimes prosecutor yesterday, announcing that he had failed to comply with the agency’s code of conduct.
Santiago Nieto Castillo’s removal came just two days after the newspaper Reforma published Nieto’s revelation that he had received a letter from the former CEO of Pemex, Emilio Lozoya, pressuring him to clear his name of corruption allegations.
The timing of the dismissal and the vagueness of the explanation for it — the PGR said Nieto had “transgressed” its code of conduct but did not specify what the transgression was — raised suspicions that he was fired for speaking out about the case.
The decision was announced by Deputy Attorney General Alberto Elías Beltrán, who is acting as head of the PGR since former Attorney General Raúl Cervantes resigned on Monday.
Nieto was appointed chief of the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes (Fepade) — a division of the PGR — in February 2015 and his term still had 13 months to run.
Opposition parties claim that Nieto’s dismissal is designed to halt an investigation into the allegation that Lozoya forwarded bribes he received from the Brazilian firm Odebrecht to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) during the 2012 presidential campaign.
In other words, they claim the federal government is seeking to stop a probe that could see itself embroiled in a corruption scandal.
The former Pemex chief has been accused of receiving US $10 million in bribes from Odebrecht, including one while he was a member of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s campaign committee.
In August, Fepade opened an investigation into whether any of the money Lozoya allegedly received had been funneled off to the PRI to fund the campaign. Lozoya has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
The now ex-chief of Fepade said the letter he received from Lozoya was both reflective of a sense of entitlement to immunity from the law and puzzling.
“He sent me a letter saying that he wants me to make a public pronouncement about his innocence and he sent me his résumé telling me who his dad is, who his mom is, where he studied. I never understood that part,” Santiago Nieto told Reforma.
“I think to a large degree the letter reflects the impunity [in Mexico], in other words, [he took] the approach of ‘I’m a public figure. The authorities have to pardon me.’ That’s what seemed particularly serious to me.”
Nieto says that he has done nothing wrong and will challenge the decision to fire him.
“I am a man of the law. I believe in the constitutional rule of law. I will go to the Senate under the terms of the constitution,” he said.
Members of opposition parties including the National Action Party (PAN), Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and Morena leapt to Nieto’s defense and announced they would push for the Senate to reinstate him next week.
Morena Senator Miguel Barbosa said that Nieto’s removal “confirms that there will never be an investigation against Emilio Lozoya,” while PRD president Alejandra Barrales said she found it incredible and outrageous that denouncing corruption cost Santiago Nieto his job.
On Twitter, she wrote, “This is another example of why we need to fight for an Attorney General’s office that works, to remove the PRI . . . [from government] and change the political regime.”
Raúl Cervantes resigned from his position on Monday, at least partially because of pressure from a range of different groups that are demanding a more autonomous prosecutor’s office.
Morena’s representative at the National Electoral Institute, Horacio Duarte, said the dismissal of Nieto was an act of revenge for his investigation into Lozoya’s alleged corruption while PAN national president Ricardo Anaya wrote on Twitter that “this dismissal seems to us [to be] an unacceptable and authoritarian act . . . .”