Mexico city: Mexico`s President Enrique Pena Nieto and his finance minister have been cleared of conflict of interest charges after a six-month investigation into their purchase of luxury homes from government contractors, the government said Friday.
Virgilio Andrade, the minister for public administration, said no conflict of interest was found to have existed because neither man was in office when they purchased the homes.
A scandal arose in November after a newspaper reported that the first lady, Angelica Rivera, bought a $4-million mansion from a major government contractor months before Pena Nieto`s election in 2012.
It was later learned that Pena Nieto and Finance Minister Luis Videgaray had made similar purchases themselves.
In response to the outcry, Pena Nieto ordered Andrade to investigate whether the companies had benefitted from special treatment in the government contracts they had received.
After questioning more than 100 civil servants involved in the 33 contracts awarded to the companies, Andrade concluded no pressure had been exerted in the firms` favor.
"It was determined that no conflict of interest exists since neither Mr Pena Nieto nor Dr Videgaray committed any partial action related to their offices or participated in any way in the contracts," he said.
The terms of the contracts were not modified after Pena Nieto took office, he added in a nearly three-hour press conference outlining his findings.
His investigation has drawn skepticism, however: Andrade is a member of Pena Nieto`s cabinet, held positions in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party and had acknowledged being a personal friend of Videgaray.
In response, Andrade vowed to make all files from his investigation available to the public.
Opposition leaders condemned his findings.
Ricardo Anaya, leader of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), called the investigation "a joke that offends Mexicans and confirms the fact that crime goes unpunished in our country."
Rivera bought her Mexico City mansion for 54 million pesos (about $4 million at the time) in January 2012, when her husband was a leading candidate for the presidential election that July.
It was purchased from a real estate company owned by Grupo Higa, which was part of a Chinese-Mexican consortium that last year won a $3.7-billion contract to build a bullet train linking the capital and the manufacturing hub of Queretaro.
Three days after the contract was awarded to the consortium, led by the China Railway Construction Corp., the government cancelled it following opposition complaints that the group was the only bidder.
Videgaray also bought a house from a company linked to Grupo Higa for $450,000 in October 2012.
Pena Nieto for his part bought a house from a company co-owned by another government contractor, Ricardo Arturo San Roman, when he was governor of Mexico state from 2005 to 2011.