Mexico’s graft scandal sparks tit-for-tat video leaks

World News

FILE – In this Aug. 17, 2017 file photo, Emilio Lozoya, former head of Mexico’s state-owned oil company Pemex, gives a press conference in Mexico City. Lozoya, who was arrested in February 2020 by Spanish police on an international warrant issued by Mexico, has dropped his extradition fight and agreed to return to Mexico to cooperate in corruption investigations, according to Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero on Tuesday, June 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Gustavo Martinez Contreras, File)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s insistence on a public airing of a rapidly widening corruption scandal is drawing questions about whether he would be doing the same if the accusations were against his own supporters rather than opposition figures.

Those questions came to the fore Thursday when a new video emerged of a man who is now a high-ranking official of López Obrador’s administration passing a bundle of cash to the president’s brother in 2015.

David León served until recently as civil defense director for López Obrador and was scheduled to take over Mexico’s coronavirus vaccine and medical procurement efforts. But León said after the new video emerged that he would not accept the new post “as long as my current situation is cleared up, so as not to affect the government of Mexico.”

León wrote in his Twitter account that the video was from five years ago, when he was a private political consultant and did not hold any government post. He said he was working at that time “to collect funds from people I knew to hold rallies and other activities.”

In the video, apart from handing an envelope with about $20,000 to Pío López, the president’s brother, León discusses delivering a total of about $100,000 over the course of months. The two are heard discussing arrangements like getting microphones and stages, apparently for the small-scale rallies López Obrador held around that time.

It’s unclear if any illegality was involved. Private campaign donations are strictly regulated in Mexico, but López Obrador was not a candidate for any office at the time.

López Obrador said Friday the money was “contributions” from supporters who kept his party afloat, paying for such things as gasoline for party workers. The president said he learned of the videos several days ago when León alerted him that someone told him they would be released.

“The purpose is to damage the image of my government, but they’re not going to achieve it,” he said. The president encouraged the Attorney General’s Office to investigate.

And the amounts discussed are tiny when compared to reports of tens of millions in bribes that the former head of Mexico’s state-run oil company said were handed around in the administration of López Obrador’s predecessor as president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

The official making those allegations, former state oil company chief Emilio Lozoya, was extradited from Spain last month to face money laundering charges and immediately began cooperating with authorities.

Lozoya’s testimony was leaked this week, and López Obrador seemed unapologetic. He has said he wants the public to see the details of the alleged corruption that has now implicated at least three former presidents and more than a dozen other politicians.

But Lozoya’s allegations neatly target López Obrador’s two predecessors in the presidency — Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón — as well as his two opponents in the last election — Ricardo Anaya and Jose Antonio Meade. They also focus on corruption surrounding a 2013 energy privatization that López Obrador always fiercely opposed.

Peña Nieto has not commented publicly on the allegations, but the others have issued strong denials.

Calderón said the allegations are politically motivated. He said via Twitter that the document’s leak confirms that López Obrador is using Lozoya “as an instrument of revenge and political persecution. Justice doesn’t interest him, but rather lynching, making in my case ridiculous accusations.”

Lozoya accused Peña Nieto and his closest associates of using bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to help win the presidency and then to pass the energy sector overhaul that could greatly benefit that company and others. To that end, some opposition lawmakers were bribed for their votes, he alleges. Other allegations carried over from the prior administration of Calderón.

López Obrador did not appear upset about the leaked testimony, saying Thursday that he wants the public to see a video given by Lozoya to prosecutors showing opposition political operatives stuffing stacks of cash into a duffel bag. The tape was leaked this week — it’s not clear by whom.

The president also said he wanted Mexicans to read Lozoya’s full statement about the alleged corruption during previous administrations. That, too, also was leaked.

On Wednesday the Attorney General’s Office promised to investigate the leaks.

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