MEXICO CITY (AP) – The Mexican president has made cracking down on corruption the centerpiece of his political agenda, so when one of the country’s most corrupt and avowed ex-officials was pictured having dinner carefree in a luxury restaurant this weekend, it wasn’t good optics.
The photographs of Emilio Lozoya, the former head of the state oil company who is now a government witness in a corruption case involving allegations of hundreds of millions of bribes, could not have fallen to a worse time.
Currently, Mexico’s attorney general is trying to lock 31 academics in a maximum security prison because he claims they falsely received around $ 2.5 million in science funding from the government years ago. The laws of the day permitted such funding, and researchers say it was not badly spent.
Meanwhile, the same attorney general has failed to jail any of the prominent figures involved in a major corruption case at state-owned oil company Pemex, which nearly bankrupted the company.
Mexico City security analyst Alejandro Hope was frank about the uproar on Monday: âThe outlook sucks. They are horrible.
Even LÃ³pez Obrador was angered by the photos of Lozoya at a restaurant in Mexico City, although as a protected witness he is not confined to his home or subjected to any form of arrest.
âI believe it’s legal, but it’s immoral that these things happen. It is reckless to say the least, âsaid LÃ³pez Obrador. “This is why there is so much outrage against him eating in a fancy restaurant. Even though he can do it legally, he witnesses acts of corruption that have done great harm to Mexico.
It is all the more embarrassing that LÃ³pez Obrador announced on Monday that he would only be making his second trip outside the country to visit the United Nations on November 9 – to deliver a speech on the dangers of corruption.
Lozoya fled to Spain, was arrested there and extradited to Mexico in 2020. He quickly decided to turn over state evidence and testify against other former officials, in exchange for not going. even in prison.
Lozoya alleged that former President Enrique PeÃ±a Nieto and his right-hand man, then Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray, asked him to bribe lawmakers, including five senators, to support controversial energy and other structural reforms in 2013 and 2014.
Lozoya also faces corruption charges linked to the overvalued purchase of a fertilizer plant by Pemex and millions of dollars in bribes paid by Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. He said PeÃ±a Nieto and Videgaray told him to use Odebrecht’s $ 4 million to pay foreign campaign consultants for work on PeÃ±a Nieto’s election campaign in 2012.
Videgaray has denied the charges. PeÃ±a Nieto, who left office in 2018 and is believed to be living abroad, has not spoken publicly since the allegations surfaced. Neither man faces charges.
And the businessman accused of defrauding the government over the fertilizer plant deal quickly repaid some of the money and was released.
So the only people prosecutors have actually prosecuted in this case are opposition politicians who allegedly received the bribes, which has raised suspicion in a country where the law has long been used only to punish political enemies.
Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero’s office said in a statement that the case against Lozoya and other allegedly corrupt officials is continuing. He said Lozoya’s case will return at a hearing on November 3.
But Lozoya has already won numerous extensions in his case. “Lozoya was able to buy some time, and maybe he’s betting this administration will end,” said Hope, the security analyst.
Photographs of Lozoya dining with friends pretty much dismissed the idea that LÃ³pez Obrador would vigorously pursue past crimes, the analyst said.
“This is the last nail in the coffin of the fantasy that this case was going to blow up the corruption sewer cover,” Hope noted.
Gertz Manero’s office, meanwhile, is still trying to lock up 31 academics and researchers in a maximum security prison usually reserved for drug lords even though a judge has already refused to issue warrants for their arrest.
Protests were heard by researchers in Mexico and abroad last month after prosecutors accused academics and members of a science advisory board of money laundering, organized crime and embezzlement, for allegedly spending too much money on superfluous articles not directly related to research.
Members of the advisory board, created to promote scientific discussion, said the $ 2.5 million had not been badly spent and had operated by the board’s own rules for more than 15 years.