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LATIN AMERICA | 12-08-2020 13:41

Mexico: Odebrecht allegedly paid for slick 2012 campaign

Mexicans were inundated by a slick, expensive ad campaign on behalf of Enrique Peña Nieto for the 2012 election. Prosecutors now say it was funded by Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction giant linked to widespread corruption in Latin America.

Mexicans were inundated by a slick, expensive ad campaign on behalf of front-running presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto for the 2012 election, but few then suspected who is now being alleged to have paid for it — Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, which has admitted to involvement in widespread corruption in Latin America.

On Tuesday, Mexican prosecutors revealed that the former head of Mexico’s state-run oil company has accused Peña Nieto and the man who became the finance secretary, Luis Videgaray, of instructing him to pay foreign campaign consultants with more than US$4 million in bribes received from Odebrecht.

In 2012, supporters of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador — then making his second unsuccessful bid for the presidency — accused Peña Nieto's campaign of employing about 20 foreign advisers, including some from South America, Spain and the United States. At the time, Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) denied those people worked for his campaign.

But Emilio Lozoya, the Pemex chief under Peña Nieto who has offered to cooperate with investigators in return for leniency in his own corruption case, has told prosecutors that he has proof, including receipts and video, of the bribes that Odebrecht paid in return for getting future public works contracts in Mexico.

Lozoya was extradited from Spain last month after months on the run to avoid money-laundering charges.

On Wednesday, López Obrador said prosecutors should air as much about the alleged corruption as possible without jeopardising the investigation.

“You have to protect due process, but you also have to make it as transparent as you can,” López Obrador said. “I would say everything, that public life should be more public each day. Those named are going to be called in and they will have to give statements.”

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In his announcement of the development Tuesday, Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero did not identify the campaign advisers who allegedly got the money. He said that once investigators vet Lozoya’s information he will call on Peña Nieto and Videgaray to give statements.

Peña Nieto and Videgaray did not comment on the accusations. Videgaray is currently a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. He did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

When Peña Nieto's ads started appearing on television in 2012, the production values and locations were far beyond the reach of López Obrador, who could barely afford microphones for the small rallies he held in town squares. Peña Nieto appeared in a series of slick 30-second ads filmed in each of Mexico's 31 states, where the telegenic, neatly groomed candidate was shown hugging and shaking hands with people of each state.

Peña Nieto's campaign was so carefully managed that the former soap opera star he married just before the campaign — and from whom he split just two months after leaving office — appeared to many Mexicans to be part of the election plan.

After winning, Peña Nieto introduced a series of historical reforms favouring the private sector, including an energy reform that opened the oil sector to foreign companies.

But the alleged bribes from Odebrecht didn't stop with the campaign, prosecutors said. Lozoya also alleges that Peña Nieto and Videgaray directed him to pay bribes to six federal lawmakers — one deputy and five senators — for their votes on controversial structural reforms in 2013 and 2014, Gertz Manero said.

Federico Estevez, a political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, noted that Peña Nieto grew up the scion of an elite family of politicians in the State of Mexico, just outside Mexico City, a state where politicians and businessmen participated for decades in graft that benefited both.

Such rich, politically connected sons are known as “juniors” in Mexico.

“He was a junior,” Estévez said of Peña Nieto. “He became president and he still wanted to be a playboy ... this is what being a junior leads to.”

In the region's largest graft scandal, Odebrecht has admitted to paying nearly US$800 million in bribes, much of it to officials in Latin America who rewarded the company with construction contracts. The scandal has ended the careers of some of Latin America’s most prominent politicians and incited a regional reckoning on deeply entrenched corruption.

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by MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press

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