(Bloomberg).- A probe into the head of Mexican state electric company CFE by the nation’s comptroller found no wrongdoing in his family’s purchases of luxury real estate, casting doubt on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s campaign against corruption.
Manuel Bartlett, 83, hasn’t used his role in the current administration to benefit himself nor his family, nor did he try to hide his assets, federal comptroller Irma Sandoval said at a news conference in Mexico City on Thursday. The probe came after journalist Carlos Loret de Mola reported in late August that Bartlett allegedly failed to report 23 residences in wealthy neighborhoods in the Mexico City area in his required declaration of assets.
Bartlett had declared to the comptroller that his net worth was 51 million pesos ($2.69 million), but his family had amassed a fortune 16 times that amount, according to Loret de Mola.
Sandoval said that her “exhaustive” investigation only covered the conduct of Bartlett since he became the head of CFE a year ago, even though he has worked at high levels of the Mexican government for much of the past half century. The properties owned by his partner, Julia Elena Abdala Lemus, didn’t need to be declared because the two aren’t married, although he and others will need to disclose such assets starting next month based on a new law, Sandoval said.
Loret de Mola’s investigation found that the holdings that Bartlett allegedly omitted were registered in the name of his partner and the children that each had from previous marriages. Most of the properties were acquired after Bartlett became a senator in 2000, including two apartments in Mexico City’s exclusive St. Regis hotel, Loret de Mola reported.
The comptroller’s conclusions quickly came under scrutiny from analysts.
“It looked more like the investigation was to justify his situation rather than determine if he acquired these properties through illicit enrichment,” said Leonardo Nunez Gonzalez, an investigator with the nonprofit organization Mexicans Against Corruption. “For most of his life, Bartlett has been a public official. These assets don’t correspond with that level of income. This was an investigation that was strictly a formality with a convenient conclusion for the public official.”
For many, the conclusion has echoes of a probe under Lopez Obrador’s predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto. His public comptroller in 2015 exonerated the president, first lady and finance minister of conflict of interest in home purchases from government contractors in part because they were acquired before they became federal officials. Lopez Obrador in 2017 used the town of Malinalco, site of one of the investigated homes, as the backdrop for an election video promoting his party’s candidate for governor of the State of Mexico, who highlighted plans to fight corruption.
–With assistance from Michael O’Boyle and Lorena Rios.
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