Mexico’s top electoral crimes prosecutor fired for revealing corruption probe into ruling party financing
While attorney general says Santiago Nieto was discharged for violating agency rules, opposition lawmakers claim it was because he was investigating bribes in 2012
Mexico’s government fired the country’s top electoral crimes prosecutor on Friday for revealing an investigation that opponents say suggested possible corrupt financing for the ruling party.
Government critics called it the latest attempt by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to insulate itself from corruption inquiries.
The Attorney General’s Office said in a short statement that electoral crimes prosecutor Santiago Nieto was fired for violating agency rules but did not specify which rules.
An official with the office said Nieto had revealed information about an ongoing investigation. The official was not authorised to be quoted by name and did not say what the investigation was about. Criminal investigations are not public in Mexico.
But opposition parties said Nieto was fired because he was investigating whether bribe money paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht had made its way into PRI campaign coffers.
Nieto had made the revelation in an interview published on Wednesday by the newspaper Reforma. In it, he said there was “information” suggesting Odebrecht in 2012 may have paid money into an account controlled by the former head of the national oil company, who at the time played a role in President Enrique Pena Nieto’s campaign.
Nieto told the newspaper that official, Emilio Lozoya, had sent him a letter demanding his name be cleared. Lozoya has denied allegations of any misconduct involving Odebrecht, whose officials have acknowledged paying bribes for contracts in several Latin American countries.
The alleged transfer of about US$3.14 million from Odebrecht front companies to offshore accounts linked to Lozoya were first reported in August by the non-profit group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity. The allegations were based on banking records and published statements by a former Odebrecht official.
The opposition National Action Party (PAN) said it opposed Nieto’s firing and would fight it in the Senate.
On his Twitter account, Nieto wrote that he would also take the issue to the Senate, which must ratify the firing.
“It is unacceptable that this firing comes amid a deep investigation of alleged bribes paid by Odebrecht to the former head of Pemex, Emilio Lozoya, during the 2012 presidential campaign,” PAN wrote in a statement.
“This firing is not an isolated case, given that it comes amid the return of the worst anti-democratic, authoritarian practices by this government.”
In an unusual move, even one of Mexico’s top business groups, the Mexican Employers’ Federation, called the firing “an attack on the rule of law, justice and democracy in Mexico”.
“We call on the Senate to use its powers to reverse the decision,” the federation wrote.
In September, PAN accused the PRI of trying to anoint Raul Cervantes – attorney general at the time and a former PRI legislator – as chief prosecutor for the next nine years, which could have effectively shielded the PRI from investigation even if it loses the July 1, 2018 presidential elections.
The PRI eventually backed off and Cervantes presented his resignation as attorney general.
While dogged by corruption accusations, the government has made some headway in detaining several former PRI state governors accused of corruption.