MEXICO CITY — Mexicans were inundated by a slick, expensive ad campaign on behalf of front-running presidential candidate Enrique Pena 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.
Recently Mexican prosecutors revealed that the former head of Mexico’s state-run oil company has accused Pena Nieto and the man who became the finance secretary, Luis Videgaray, of instructing him to pay foreign campaign consultants with more than $4 million in bribes received from Odebrecht.
In 2012, supporters of current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – then making his second unsuccessful bid for the presidency – accused Pena Nieto’s campaign of employing about 20 foreign advisers, including some from South America, Spain and the United States. At the time, Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party denied those people worked for his campaign.
But Emilio Lozoya, the Pemex chief under Pena Nieto, who has offered to co-operate 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.
In his announcement of the development, Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero did not identify the campaign advisers who allegedly got the money. He said that once investigators vet Lozoya’s information he will call on Pena Nieto and Videgaray to give statements.
Pena 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.
When Pena Nieto’s ads started appearing on television in 2012, the production values and locations were far beyond the reach of Lopez Obrador, who could barely afford microphones for the small rallies he held in town squares. Pena 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.
Pena 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, Pena Nieto introduced a series of historical reforms favouring 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 Pena 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.
Federico Estevez, a political science professor at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, noted that Pena Nieto grew up the scion of an elite family of politicians in the State of Mexico, just outside Mexico City, a state where politicians and businessmen participated for decades in graft that benefited both.
Such rich, politically connected sons are known as “juniors” in Mexico.
“He was a junior,” Estevez said of Pena Nieto. “He became president and he still wanted to be a playboy …this is what being a junior leads to.”
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.