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Mexico's Unreachable Elites Targeted by Rare Corruption Investigation

ELITES AND CRIME / 26 MAY 2021 BY VICTORIA DITTMAR EN

A new corruption inquiry offers a unique chance for Mexico to confront long-rumored bribery between those at the highest levels of government and international companies.

On May 24, Animal Político revealed the Attorney General’s Office accused a number of politicians, including former President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), of forming a criminal ring between 2013 and 2014.

The network allegedly funneled 100 million Mexican pesos (about $5 million) in bribes to various senators in exchange for support for Peña Nieto's landmark energy reform, one of his signature legislative achievements. Brazilian construction company Odebrecht provided the bribe funds, according to documents presented by prosecutors at a closed-door judicial hearing and seen by Animal Político.

The list of politicians being accused includes some of Mexico's most influential figures. Besides Peña Nieto, authorities also named former Finance Minister Luis Videgaray, former presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya and current Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca – who is also under investigation for links to organized crime.

SEE ALSO: How Odebrecht Profited From Corrupting LatAm Political Elites

The documents obtained by Animal Político contend that Peña Nieto ordered Videgaray to have then-Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) director Emilio Lozoya funnel money from Odebrecht to the group of legislators. Odebrecht reportedly made the transactions to phantom companies, from which cash was subsequently collected and handed over to lawmakers.

Lozoya was arrested in February 2020 and told prosecutors last August that Peña Nieto and Videgaray had also used Odebrecht bribes to finance the 2012 re-election campaign.

According to Animal Político, the Attorney General's Office collected statements from Lozoya, Odebrecht executives and four other people who participated in, or were aware of, the alleged bribery scheme.

Since 2014, investigations have uncovered how Odebrecht systematically bribed political leaders, including presidents, across Latin America to win public works contracts.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Peña Nieto's name has long been mentioned in connection to the Odebrecht scandal, having the Attorney General's Office accuse him directly of corruption is a significant escalation, marking a rare case where legal actions have targeted the highest echelons of political power in Mexico.

These accusations are part of a broader investigation into corruption and money laundering related to Odebrecht in Mexico. Until now, the main target of these inquiries had been Lozoya, the former Pemex boss who Odebrecht executives accused of receiving $10 million in bribes to secure contracts with Mexico's national oil company.

After his arrest, Lozoya agreed to collaborate with authorities and provide evidence of how various corruption schemes were organized, including the alleged illicit financing of Peña Nieto's 2012 campaign. His cooperation was seen as key to the Odebrecht investigation in Mexico finally taking off.

After the Odebrecht scandal first broke internationally in 2016 when Peña Nieto was still in power, judicial efforts in Mexico remained stagnant compared to other Latin American countries.

SEE ALSO: Is AMLO Getting Serious About Mexico’s Anti-Corruption Fight?

The Attorney General's Office's investigation could yet affect other presidents. Lozoya’s testimony has led prosecutors to investigate the bank accounts of former presidents Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Carlos Salinas (1988-1994), as well as other high-ranking officials from the Peña Nieto administration, according to El Universal. But so far, they have not been formally linked to the investigation or charged with any crime.

The only politician arrested in connection with this case so far is Jorge Luis Lavalle, a former senator detained in April 2021 on suspicion of having been part of Lozoya's bribery scheme. It remains to be seen if other senior officials will also be brought down.

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