Mexican ethics probe clears Peña Nieto, finance minister

The controversy erupted for Mexico's president last November when it was revealed that first lady Angelica Rivera was in the process of acquiring a luxury home from a company that was part of a Chinese-led consortium to build a $3.75 billion rail link.

Henry Romero/REUTERS
Virgilio Andrade, head of the Public Administration Ministry, speaks to the media during a news conference in Mexico City August 21, 2015.

A Mexican government auditor said on Friday he found no evidence of wrongdoing by President Enrique Peña Nieto or his finance minister in their purchase of homes from public contractors, as the administration tries to draw a line under the scandal.

Virgilio Andrade, head of the Public Administration Ministry, said the investigation showed that neither Peña Nieto nor Finance Minister Luis Videgaray had gained benefits or tried to influence officials responsible for awarding contracts to companies that sold homes to them and Peña Nieto's wife.

Appointed by Peña Nieto to run the public administration ministry in the wake of the controversy, Andrade said investigators had questioned 111 officials involved in awarding 33 contracts to the companies linked to the homes.

In a news conference to announce the probe's findings, Andrade explained how Peña Nieto and Videgaray had not broken any laws and argued that the two politicians had not held public office at relevant moments in the chronology of the purchases.

Videgaray, however, bought his home in October 2012 when he was head of the transition team formed after Peña Nieto won the July 2012 presidential election, and had been expected to hold a top cabinet post once they took office that December.

The controversy erupted for Peña Nieto last November when it was revealed that first lady Angelica Rivera was in the process of acquiring a luxury home from a company that was part of a Chinese-led consortium to build a $3.75 billion rail link.

The company was headed by contractor Juan Armando Hinojosa, and the government canceled the rail contract just before a major media investigation on the home purchase was published.

The revelations sparked public outcry and were embarrassing to Peña Nieto because the lucrative contract was canceled just as he was about to set off to China for a state visit.

It subsequently emerged that Videgaray had purchased a home from Hinojosa and that Peña Nieto enjoyed rent-free use of another property from the contractor's business holdings during the 2012 election campaign.

Further media investigations showed Peña Nieto had bought another property a decade ago from a different company that subsequently went on to acquire substantial government business.

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