MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto pledged Tuesday to open a government investigation into purchases of luxury homes made by himself, his wife and his finance secretary from government contractors.
Pena Nieto said he has asked the Public Administration Department, an anti-corruption watchdog agency, to investigate the purchases and named a new secretary of the department to lead the probe, which would be reviewed by a panel of experts.
"There have been allegations about possible conflicts of interest in my administration," Pena Nieto said. "I am aware that these allegations created the appearance of something improper, something that really did not occur."
The announcement was met with criticism from academics and analysts who characterized it as "absurd" for the president to ask a subordinate to investigate him. They said it appeared to be a maneuver to allow Pena Nieto to say there was an investigation, one most certain to find no conflicts of interest.
"If I choose the prosecutor who is going to investigate me, from there begins the absurdity," said Gerardo Palomar, a lawyer and professor at the private university Tecnologico de Monterrey.
When he was governor of the State of Mexico in 2005, Pena Nieto bought a house from a company that won government contracts. Finance Secretary Luis Videgaray and first lady Angelica Rivera later both bought houses from another government contractor, which also financed the purchases.
All three have denied they did anything improper.
"It is a conflict of interest in and of itself in which the secretary of public administration is involved from the moment they asked him to investigate his boss," said Gerardo Esquivel, an economist and researcher at Colegio de Mexico.
"What the president wants ... is to close this situation," Esquivel said.