Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto declined on Thursday to immediately disclose records showing how he and his wife acquired homes that are the subject of an investigation overshadowing his administration.
He said that the federal probe into whether government contractors obtained an unfair advantage after selling homes to him and first lady Angelica Rivera would vindicate the couple. Pena Nieto added he saw no reason to short-circuit that process and release documents showing that they paid for the homes.
“This is a topic that has been sufficiently explained and I am leaving it up to the comptroller who is in charge of the investigation,” he said during an interview with Bloomberg News in Brussels. “I acknowledge that there could have been a mistake about this issue, a mistake in terms of the perception created, but never was there any act against the law.”
Asked why he didn’t simply produce proof of purchase to re-establish public trust, he said, “We’ll leave that to the nation’s comptroller, who will undoubtedly be able to present the results of his investigation.”
The comptroller said in February his probe would seek to establish whether the companies that sold the homes received favorable treatment when they later bid for federal contracts and won’t seek to determine how the homes were obtained.
Accusations of cronyism have hurt Pena Nieto’s approval ratings in a country that ranked 103rd of the 175 nations on Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index. Following allegations of favoritism for contractors, he named a public auditor to investigate the scandals and pushed new transparency and anti-corruption laws through congress.
Pena Nieto, who is almost halfway through a six-year term, was in Brussels for a meeting of leaders from Europe and Latin America. The trip also included a visit to Italy.
Last month, Pena Nieto reaffirmed his commitment to increase public trust when he enacted that package of anti-corruption laws.
The laws, he said, “will create a new culture in favor of transparency, honesty and legality.”
An official at the comptroller’s office declined to comment on the ongoing investigation except to say that the law doesn’t establish a deadline for the probe.
Pena Nieto appointed Federal Comptroller Virgilio Andrade in February, less than three months after a website revealed that his wife bought a luxury home in Mexico City from a government contractor, Grupo Higa. Finance Minister Luis Videgaray purchased a house from a unit of Higa in 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported in December.
The U.S. newspaper reported the following month that Pena Nieto acquired a house in 2005 from a separate contractor in Mexico State, where he served as governor.
All have denied wrongdoing.
Pena Nieto’s approval rating fell to 39 percent in December, the lowest for any Mexican president since the mid-1990s, according to a survey by Reforma newspaper.
The drop in popularity came after weeks of protests following the September disappearance of 43 college students, who the government says were killed by a drug gang working with local police.
The case in Iguala, Mexico, became a symbol of drug violence that has left more than 70,000 dead since 2006. Bolstering security will be a major focus of the second half of Pena Nieto’s six-year term, which ends in 2018, he said.
“We will have to take over some authorities that might be involved and entangled with organized crime,” he said.“That’s part of the agenda that congress will need to address in the second half of my term.”
In midterm elections last Sunday, a coalition led by his party remained the largest force in congress’s lower house despite a decline in his personal popularity over conflict-of-interest allegations and ongoing concerns over violence.
Mexican society is calling for greater accountability from public officials, Pena Nieto said in the interview on Thursday when asked what he’s learned since taking office in late 2012.
“Without any doubt, I think today we have a society that is requiring more,” he said. “It’s a more demanding society. A government that evidently is under more scrutiny.”