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article imageMexico graft scandal turns up heat on ex-presidents

By Yussel Gonzalez (AFP)     Aug 20, 2020 in World

A corruption scandal shaking Mexico's political elite intensified Thursday as a leaked document containing a raft of allegations raised pressure on several former presidents and senior officials.

With tensions mounting between the country's political rivals, ex-leader Felipe Calderon accused President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of "political persecution."

Lopez Obrador has called for Calderon and former president Enrique Pena Nieto to testify about the corruption claims linked to scandal-tainted Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

The allegations have emerged during the trial of Emilio Lozoya, a former advisor to Pena Nieto and ex-head of state oil giant PEMEX.

In a statement to prosecutors leaked to the media late Wednesday, Lozoya said he was ordered by Pena Nieto and former finance minister Luis Videgaray to bribe lawmakers to approve key reforms.

"Enrique Pena Nieto and Luis Videgaray told me in February 2013 that it was necessary to deliver significant amounts of money to the opposition so that it would vote in favor of certain structural reforms," Lozoya said.

According to the document, he accused two former senators of the conservative opposition National Action Party (PAN), who are now state governors, of receiving bribes. Both have denied the allegation.

Lozoya also said that Carlos Salinas, who was president from 1988 to 1994, lobbied for one of his sons to receive projects from PEMEX.

- 'Instrument of revenge' -

Among the other claims, Lozoya said that he gave just over six million pesos (about $300,000) to former PAN presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya, who also rejected the accusation.

Lozoya alleged that during Calderon's 2006-2012 term in office, an Odebrecht subsidiary was given favorable conditions for the construction of a petrochemical plant.

Calderon hit back on Twitter, accusing Lopez Obrador of using Lozoya "as an instrument of revenge and political persecution.

"He is not interested in justice, but lynching, making ridiculous accusations in my case," Calderon said.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist who swept to power in 2018 vowing an anti-corruption drive, told reporters he believed the leaked document was genuine.

"Everything indicates that... it is the complaint that he indeed submitted to the attorney general's office," the president said at his daily news conference.

It was important "that there is no concealment of information... that the truth be known," he added.

The attorney general's office said it was investigating the leak, but did not deny the document's authenticity.

Lozoya, Pena Nieto's former chief international strategist, was extradited from Spain last month to stand trial on corruption charges linked to Odebrecht.

The 45-year-old, who headed PEMEX from 2012 to 2016 during the Pena Nieto administration, has been given the status of cooperating witness.

Last week prosecutors quoted him as telling them that multi-million-dollar bribes from Odebrecht had financed the presidential campaign that brought Pena Nieto to power in 2012.

Lopez Obrador's 2018 election victory, in the face of voter outrage at corruption and cartel-related violence, overturned decades of political dominance by Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party and PAN.

On Tuesday Lopez Obrador showed a video allegedly showing two former Senate officials linked to PAN receiving wads of bills as bribes and stuffing them in suitcases.

The Odebrecht scandal has brought down ex-presidents and top officials in countries including Brazil, Peru and Colombia.

The company has admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to win contracts in 12 countries, including Mexico.

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