MEXICO CITY — For years, while corruption quietly pervaded Mexican politics, there were rarely high-profile investigations into who was stealing what — or how.
But in the past week alone, a deposition from a former senior official and video footage of stacks of cash changing hands have circulated widely, as members of Mexico’s political elite simultaneously point fingers at one another. Almost none of those claims has been verified, and the video clips lack context, but taken together they have ignited a national conversation about corruption that has reached the country’s halls of power.
As of Friday, the allegations included President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose anti-corruption platform was at the heart of his campaign in 2018. It was López Obrador’s administration that arrested and extradited Emilio Lozoya, the former head of the country’s state oil company, now on trial facing corruption charges.
This week, Lozoya’s 60-page deposition was leaked, including allegations against more than a dozen former officials, including three ex-presidents and several presidential candidates and senators. Lozoya claimed that former president Enrique Peña Nieto and former finance minister Luis Videgaray instructed Lozoya to establish a “criminal association, aimed at enriching themselves not only from the public treasury, but also through extortion.”
He also claimed that Peña Nieto’s campaign accepted a $6 million bribe from Odebrecht, the Brazilian construction company that was behind corruption scandals across Latin America.
It is unclear how much legal heft Lozoya’s deposition will carry — for now, there is little or no evidence accompanying his claims and Mexico’s judicial system has a notoriously low conviction rate, hovering below 10%. But what is clear is that López Obrador plans to use the allegations to bolster his own political position, attempting to weaken his already anemic opposition.
Videgaray, a visiting professor at the Massachusetts of Technology, called the allegations “absurd, inconsistent and baseless” and “invented [by Lozoya] to free himself from the consequences of his own actions.”
Peña Nieto could not be reached for comment.
Other politicians mentioned in the Lozoya testimony struck back. Ricardo Anaya, a former presidential candidate, filed a lawsuit against him alleging “moral damage.” Former president Felipe Calderón claimed López Obrador was using Lozoya “as an instrument of vengeance and political persecution.”
Amid that fallout, a video was released that appeared to show employees of Mexico’s senate putting stacks of cash into a suitcase. López Obrador claimed the video “displays the filth of the regime of corruption.” Though from the clip alone it’s difficult to prove what the money is being used for, or where it comes from.
Some have linked the video to Lozoya’s claim that lawmakers were paid off to approve energy reform legislation in 2013. López Obrador has hinted at dismantling that reform, and some analysts believe the president will attempt to use the corruption scandal to reverse it.
Then, on Friday, came two more videos, this time of López Obrador’s brother, Pio López Obrador, apparently accepting bags of cash from David León in 2015. León at the time was a political consultant and is now an official in the government responsible for the distribution of medicine and medical equipment.
In response to questions about the video, León wrote, “I was a consultant, not a public servant. My way of supporting the movement was to collect resources from acquaintances to fund meetings and other activities.”
López Obrador on Friday told reporters that the money did not represent corruption payments but was instead “support of the people to the movement,” referring to his political party.
But this time it was López Obrador’s opponents who cited the video as proof of corruption. The opposition National Action Party (PAN) asked the electoral commission to investigate the video as proof of a potentially illicit campaign contribution. López Obrador said he was unsure whether the money had been reported to the electoral commission.
“Tell me what you brag about and I’ll tell you what you lack,” Calderón, the former president, tweeted, quoting a Mexican saying, pointing to the irony that López Obrador now has to respond to corruption allegations while his administration leads its own corruption probe.