Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has built a reputation as a reformer, faced questions about his family’s purchase of a home held by a company whose owner has won multiple government projects during the president’s administration and his previous term as a state governor.
The revelations, first published online by prominent Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui, come just days after the government abruptly canceled a $3.7 billion high-speed train to ensure there were no doubts about the project, officials said.
The news website Aristegui Noticias yesterday published all the details surrounding the ownership and construction of the personal, US $7-million home of President Peña Nieto and his wife, Angélica Rivera.
Its registered owner is Ingeniería Inmobiliaria del Centro, a company owned by Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantú, who also owns Grupo Higa, whose affiliate Constructora Teya is a member of the China Railway consortium that had successfully bid on the Mexico City-Querétaro bullet train.
The story also revealed that Grupo Higa won more than 8 billion pesos in many state construction contracts — from a regional hospital in Zumpango to the Toluca-Naucalpan highway — during the time Peña Nieto was governor of the State of Mexico.
It was also another Grupo Higa affiliate that leased planes and helicopters to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for Peña Nieto’s presidential campaign in 2012.
Information obtained by Aristegui Noticias indicates that the president’s wife made a down payment on what was to be the family home in January 2012, although no details were offered concerning the purchase price. Presidential spokesman Eduardo Sánchez said Rivera was paying for the home in instalments and that title will pass to her when the final payment is made.
“She was a successful actress and has built up her own patrimony,” said Sánchez.
The six-bedroom home, designed with input from the president and his wife, is located in the exclusive Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood of Mexico City.
These news come up as the country reels from the Attorney General’s announcement on Friday of the horrendous murder of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, September 26. Their bodies were burned; the ashes and other remains were ground up, put in plastic bags and disposed of in a river.
Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam announced the details at a press conference on Friday, although he said the search for the 43 students would continue while efforts are made to test the remains for DNA and determine their identity.
But the confessions of three gang members are a strong indication that the large number of people — more than 40 — delivered to them to be killed and burned at a garbage dump in Cocula were the missing students. They had been rounded up by municipal police in Iguala earlier that night, and haven’t been heard from since.
Their parents and family members have refused to accept that the bags of ashes are the remains of their children until there is scientific proof, and that evidence must be analyzed a team of Argentinian investigators they have hired to conduct a parallel investigation.
The parents’ lack of confidence in the authorities is no more than a reflection of a national sentiment, one that has grown significantly since the murders in Iguala in September. There is also widespread distrust of anyone connected with the PRI, which has its roots in the 70-year span in which it formed the government, much of it steeped in corruption.
The revelations about Peña Nieto’s home will further erode his standing.
“This looks like an act of corruption, or influence peddling, which will deal a strong blow to the president’s image,” said José Antonio Crespo, a political analyst at the CIDE social-science research center in Mexico City.
The president’s spokesman denied there was any conflict of interest, and Grupo Higa declined to offer any comments on the subject.
Further adding to the mystery is last Thursday’s surprise rejection by Peña Nieto of the contract that had been awarded to China Railway. The president ordered the process be repeated but with greater transparency.
While it may be a “perfectly normal situation” as far as Sánchez is concerned, the optics are a huge problem for the president at a time when Mexico needs a strong, trusted leader to guide it through the current crisis.
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