Allegations Of Corruption Dog Mexico's First Lady Angélica Rivera
Eight months ago, Mexico's first lady, known for her fondness of designer clothes and European vacations, made a public promise to sell a multi-million-dollar mansion bought under controversial circumstances. She's purchasing the home, at below market rates, from a contractor with lucrative connections to her husband.
The scandal has been one of the biggest to rock the president's administration. And months later many questions remain regarding the questionable purchase — and the first lady hasn't sold her house.
Last November, just back from a state visit to China, a defensive Angélica Rivera, the wife of President Enrique Peña Nieto, distributed a videotaped message.
"I have nothing to hide," Rivera said, reading from prepared remarks. The former soap opera actress said she's purchasing the house with her own earnings.
Rivera says she began planning the design of the house in 2009 and secured a $4 million loan to be paid over 8 years from a company owned by the Grupo Higa construction firm. The well connected firm, was part of a consortium that won Mexico's first multi-billion-dollar high-speed train bid. The deal, however, was quietly canceled just weeks before the firm's connection to the first couple's house was revealed and Rivera videotaped her remarks.
Looking intently into the camera, toward the end of her 7 minute video, Rivera promised that despite having done nothing wrong she will sell her interest in the custom built home.
"Because, she added, "I don't want this to continue to be a pretext to offend or defame my family."
Rivera recorded the video, and made her promise, last November. NPR obtained all public documents registered to the first lady's house located in one of the capital's most exclusive neighborhoods.
We showed them to the head of Mexico's public notary college and the president of a leading real estate association. Antonio Hanna Grayeb says according to the documents, the house has not been sold. Grayeb warns that property transfers in Mexico can take as long as one to two months to show up in public records.
When asked about any recent sales a spokesman for the president says none has happened. When asked why the First Lady hasn't sold her interest in the house as promised, spokesman Paulo Carreno said it's the president's understanding that Rivera won't sell until the investigation into allegations of conflict of interest involving the first couple has been completed.
When asked to speak with a representative for the first lady, Carreno said he didn't believe she had one.
Not making good on her promise is just the latest gaffe Rivera is facing. Her spending habits, including photographed trips to Beverly Hills, Calif., and Europe, her purchase of a luxury condo in Miami and rumored marital problems with the president dominate social media here. This at the same time a government agency reported that 2 million more Mexicans fell into poverty since her husband took office.
As for when the investigation into the conflict of interest charges involving the first couple will be concluded, a spokesman for the investigator appointed by Peña Nieto, would only say "shortly."
That's not good enough for some members of Congress.
"Too much time has gone by with zero results," says Fernando Belaunzarán, a congressman with the opposition PRD party. He says from the outset the president used the investigation as a stalling tactic in hopes the public would forget about the scandal after a few months. Belaunzarán and other congress members have introduced a formal resolution demanding the investigator present his findings.
Political analyst Denise Dresser says she doubts any meaningful results will be made public anytime soon, "because it delves too deeply into the nature of power of crony capitalism and of opacity in the way that government deals are brokered."
And Dresser says without a transparent investigation, Peña Nieto's credibility with the public, now the lowest level of any Mexican president in the past 20 years, will continue to erode.
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