Peña Nieto's investigation shakes Mexico with doubts of political motives

The open investigation against former President Enrique Peña Nieto for irregular banking operations shakes Mexican politics with doubts about the autonomy of the Prosecutor's Office and political motivations.

Peña Nieto's investigation shakes Mexico with doubts of political motives
Enrique Peña Nieto, former President of the United Mexican States. Photo: Embamex

The investigation opened against former president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) for irregular banking operations shakes Mexican politics with doubts about the autonomy of the Attorney General's Office and the political motivations of the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

The Government's Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) reported a week ago a complaint "for possible operations with resources of illicit origin" for transfers that a family member made to Peña Nieto to Spain for more than 26 million pesos between 2019 and 2021.

Since the announcement, which was made during López Obrador's morning press conference, the Government has provoked questions about the political handling of the case, since Peña Nieto belongs to the now opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

"At the beginning, the secrecy and the handling of the evidence and the investigation file is much more important than going out to give a press conference. This could tell us that maybe they are announcing this to make it look like they are doing something without there being a relevant legal case," Irene Tello, executive director of Impunidad Cero, told EFE.

Threat and electoral motivation?

The controversy has grown after it was reported in the national press that the investigation was opened after the former president, who now lives in Spain, met with PRI politicians to coordinate the 2023 state election, when the governorship of the State of Mexico, which Peña Nieto governed from 2005 to 2011, will be renewed.

"That is a lie, that is not true. That, journalistically speaking, so as not to keep mentioning that they are dedicated to slander, is, in a kind way, a volada (occurrence)," commented López Obrador on the reports.

But the professor of Politics, Hugo Garciamarín, asserted that the Government's investigation can be interpreted as a "warning" before the election of the State of Mexico, which is key for the ruling National Regeneration Movement (Morena) for being the most populated entity of the country.

"It is a threat, but not in such frontal terms as it would be with other political actors. This occurs in the context of the approaching election of the State of Mexico, which is fundamental for the survival of a certain PRI elite and the control of much more power than Morena may have", detailed the academic of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

The expert considers it plausible that there was a political agreement between López Obrador and Peña Nieto for the 2018 electoral transition, but given next year's election in the State of Mexico, which has always been in the hands of the PRI, "it seems that this same previous understanding is being reconsidered".

The ghost of persecution

The opposition parties have accused the Government of "persecution" and "media show" given this investigation, and that of the current PRI leader, Alejandro Moreno, in addition to reports in the press of information requested by the UIF to banks on former presidents Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012).

That information transcends as the country approaches the 2024 presidential election with an increase in insecurity and inflation of almost 8%, its highest level since 2001, warned Garciamarín.

"The president's image is still strong, but it has faded," he opined.

For the executive director of Impunidad Cero, the key is that "the Attorney General's Office should be an autonomous entity and just the autonomy is given to it for these cases so that it is not a political persecution".

Despite the Government's discourse, Tello enunciated that the current Government "they have made no progress" on major corruption cases, such as that of Emilio Lozoya, former director of Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) from 2012 to 2016 and main implicated in Mexico in the Odebrecht bribery scandal.

"Beyond political persecution, what we would have to see is that the laws are applied evenly to all. If there is a crime to be prosecuted, it should be prosecuted, but it should be investigated and the corresponding sanction should be reached, without depending on the Executive," said the specialist.

Enrique Peña Nieto, former President of the United Mexican States

Mr. Peña Nieto was born on July 20, 1966. He holds a law degree from Universidad Panamericana and a master's degree in administration from Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM).

Mr. Peña Nieto began working in public service at a young age, holding various positions in the Government of the State of Mexico. From 2000 to 2002, he was Secretary of Administration, and from 2003 to 2004 he served as Deputy of District XIII in the LV Legislature of the State of Mexico, where he was also Coordinator of the Parliamentary Group of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

In 2005, he ran for the governorship of the State of Mexico. During his campaign, he toured the state, listening to the people and signing public work commitments before a notary public.

In this way, he was elected governor of the State of Mexico, the most populated state in the country. His term in office lasted from September 16, 2005, to September 15, 2011.

Under his responsibility, important advances were made in infrastructure and public services, such as health. In addition, a restructuring of the state's finances was carried out, reducing public debt and increasing spending on works and programs, without the need to increase taxes.

At the end of his term as Governor, in 2011, Enrique Peña Nieto expressed his aspiration to run for the Presidency of the Republic. After an intense electoral campaign, characterized by the signing of national and state commitments, he won on July 1, 2012.

On December 1, 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto became President of the United Mexican States until December 1, 2018. The main objective of his government was to ensure that the rights that the Constitution recognizes for Mexicans go from paper to practice, working on 5 fundamental axes.