MEXICO CITY (AP) — 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.
Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero Gertz said Wednesday that the case illustrates how the “perfect dictatorship” — a term used to describe Peña Nieto's old ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party — was “created to break the law, to loot and to enforce submission.”
Few things could have been further from most people's minds when the young, handsome Peña Nieto launched his slick presidential campaign in 2012, promising reform and modernization. But behind it all, he was allegedly using the corrupt old practices his party had perfected over seven decades in power.
“This is the double language, where one can be corrupt but also good, where one can be positive and at the time loot” the country, Gertz Manero said during a call-in forum. “One can have five or ten masks, according to whatever serves your purpose, but in the end it only leads to the destruction of the country.”
A day earlier, Gertz Manero said the former head of Mexico’s state-run oil company has testified that Peña Nieto and the man who became the finance secretary, Luis Videgaray, instructed him to pay foreign campaign consultants in 2012 with more than $4 million in bribes received from Odebrecht.
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.
Gertz Manero defended the deal, which has allowed Lozoya to cooperate with investigations while under a form of house arrest, saying that “it is giving us the results that I expected we would get.”
Earlier Wednesday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said prosecutors should make public as much about the alleged corruption as possible without jeopardizing the investigation. Some have suggested López Obrador is revealing the investigation to discredit opposition parties ahead of the 2021 mid-term elections for congressional seats and governorships. Mexican law usually prohibits prosecutors from revealing details from ongoing cases.
López Obrador defended his administration's actions.
“You have to protect due process, but you also have to make it as transparent as you can,” he 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.”
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.
Gertz Manero has said that once investigators vet Lozoya’s information he will call on Peña Nieto and Videgaray to give statements.
In 2012, supporters of 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 party denied those people worked for his campaign, and prosecutors have not identified the campaign advisers who allegedly got the money.
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 favoring 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.
In the region's largest graft scandal, Odebrecht has admitted to paying nearly $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.
Gertz Manero said the investigation would go as high as needed, and could change the country.
“I do not think it is fair that in the country, things don't go beyond scapegoats and low-level operators. That does not give us justice, ” Gertz Manero said. “So, no, this is about nothing more than getting to the bottom of things and finding out what really happened. And if what this man is saying is true, that there was a real plot and a conspiracy that originated in the government and from the seat of power, that has an importance for the country we cannot devalue.”
Associated Press writer Carlos Rodríguez contributed to this report.