MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's government fired the top electoral-crimes prosecutor Friday for revealing an investigation that opponents say suggested possible corrupt financing for the ruling party.
Government critics called it the latest attempt by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to insulate itself from corruption probes.
The Attorney General's Office said in a short statement that electoral-crimes prosecutor Santiago Nieto was fired for violating agency rules but didn't specify which rules.
An official with the office said Nieto had revealed information about an ongoing investigation. The official was not authorized to be quoted by name and didn't say what the investigation was about. Criminal investigations are not public in Mexico.
But opposition parties said Nieto was fired because he was investigating whether bribe money paid by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht had made its way into PRI campaign coffers.
Nieto had made the revelation in an interview published Wednesday by the newspaper Reforma. In it, he said there was "information" suggesting that Odebrecht may have paid money into an account controlled by the former head of the national oil company, who at the time in 2012 played a role in President Enrique Pena Nieto's campaign.
Nieto told Reforma that official, Emilio Lozoya, had sent him a letter demanding his name be cleared. Lozoya has denied allegations of any misconduct involving Odebrecht, whose officials have acknowledged paying bribes for contracts in several Latin American countries.
The alleged transfer of about $3.14 million from Odebrecht front companies to offshore accounts linked to Lozoya were first reported in August by the nonprofit group Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, based on banking records and published statements by a former Odebrecht official.
The opposition National Action Party, the PAN, said it opposed Nieto's firing and would fight it in the Senate. On his Twitter account, Nieto wrote that he would also take the issue to the Senate, which must ratify the firing.
"It is unacceptable that this firing comes amid a deep investigation of alleged bribes paid by Odebrecht to the former head of Pemex, Emilio Lozoya, during the 2012 presidential campaign," the PAN wrote in a statement. "This firing is not an isolated case, given that it comes amid the return of the worst anti-democratic, authoritarian practices by this government."
In an unusual move, even one of Mexico's top business groups, the Mexican Employers' Federation, called the firing "an attack on the rule of law, justice and democracy in Mexico."
"We call on the Senate to use its powers to reverse the decision," the federation wrote.
In September, the PAN accused the PRI of trying to anoint then-Attorney General, Raul Cervantes — a former PRI legislator — as chief prosecutor for the next nine years, which could have effectively shielded the PRI from investigation even if it loses the July 1, 2018 presidential elections.
The PRI eventually backed off and Cervantes presented his resignation as attorney general.
While dogged by corruption accusations, the government has made some headway in detaining several former PRI state governors accused of corruption.