According to AFP, México's beleaguered President Enrique Peña Nieto of the ruling PRI, already struggling with protests over a student massacre involving 43 missing students, sought Wednesday (November 19) to quell a controversy over a mansion his wife bought from a government contractor.
A day after Angelica Rivera said she would sell the house to end the uproar, Peña Nieto thanked his wife for her "courage" and said he would make all his assets public despite being under no obligation to do so.
COMMENT: In a world of prevailing disclosure of all material assets, why is that México is particularly excluded from a global norm? Perhaps it is attributed to the country being institutionally corrupt.
"As president, I appreciate and value more the trust of Mexicans than the right to privacy that I may have as a public servant," he said during an event in the western state of Michoacan.
Criticism of the mansion has been a political burden for Peña Nieto, who is struggling with protests over the government's handling of the presumed massacre of 43 college students by a combined group of corrupt police and cartel members in the southern state of Guerrero.
In a bid to end the controversy, Rivera, a former soap opera star, issued a video statement late Tuesday (November 18) explaining how she bought the house in a posh Mexico City neighborhood.
"I don't want this to continue being a pretext to insult and defame my family," she said, announcing her decision to give up the house, which she said she bought with her TELEVISA earnings. She declared $10 million in taxable revenue in 2010.
Rivera released a January 2012 real estate contract--six months before Peña Nieto was elected--showing she agreed to pay $4 million for the house over eight years at an interest rate of 9%.
Rivera acknowledged that the house was built by a subsidiary of a government contractor after she told the firm's owner, Mexican mogul Juan Armando Hinojosa, that she was looking for a new property.
The president's spokesman, Eduardo Sánchez, told MVS radio that a conflict of interest "does not exist" in the transaction.
While the media has seized on the story, the opposition has kept relatively quiet, probably because it faces its own corruption scandals, analysts said.
"The silence has been thunderous," wrote Milenio newspaper columnist Carlos Puig.
Revelations about the "White House" were made last week by prominent journalist Carmen Aristegui, who said the house was built by a subsidiary of Grupo Higa, a company headed by Hinojosa.
Grupo Higa had won lucrative public works contracts when Peña Nieto was governor of the state of México. Earlier this month, it was part of a Chinese-Mexican consortium that won a $3.7 billion bullet train contract.
Three days before the Aristegui report came out, Peña Nieto abruptly canceled the train deal, putting him in an awkward position as he traveled to a summit in Beijing.
The government said it wanted to avoid any questions about transparency after the opposition raised questions about why only one group, the one led by China Railway Construction Corp., had bid for the contract.