Photo by Justin Lane/EPA
Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto has apologized for the so-called Casa Blanca, or White House, scandal in which a favored government contractor built a multi-million dollar mansion for his family."I apologize for the White House, I made a mistake. A mistake that affected my family and damaged the institution of the presidency," Peña Nieto said while signing new laws that promise to deal with rampant public distrust of politicians by making corruption more difficult. "I reiterate my sincere and deep apology for the damage I caused."
The scandal broke in November 2014 when the news website Aristegui Noticias revealed that a subsidiary of the company Grupo Higa had built a very large residence designed specifically for Peña Nieto's family. The mansion, in an exclusive part of the capital, was built shortly before he was elected president in 2012, while he was governor of Mexico State.Grupo Higa already held important contracts with Mexico State and went on to win more from the federal government after Peña Nieto took office. The company is owned by a personal friend of the president, Juan Armando Hinojosa, who also figures prominently in the secretive international money movements recently revealed by the so-called Panama Papers leak."The information revealed about the so-called White House triggered a lot of indignation," Peña Nieto said during the speech, parts of which were also tweeted out by the presidential office. "I felt the irritation of Mexicans in my own skin, and I understand it completely. That's why I am asking for forgiveness with complete humility."Such shows of repentance are very rare in Mexican politics, although the president was still rather vague about what exactly he was apologizing for.Peña Nieto has always vigorously denied there was any conflict of interest involved in the construction of the mansion, which the original report had valued at around 7 million dollars.He initially insisted he did not include the property in his declaration of assets because it was being bought by his wife Angélica Rivera. He also argued that all suspicions should have been discounted after she uploaded a YouTube video in which she gave details of the deal she had made with Grupo Higa and said she had paid for the house with a lifetime of hard work as a telenovela star.
When this did not quell the noise, the president announced an investigation into the case that duly absolved him of any wrongdoing. The probe, however, was widely ridiculed because it was headed by a personal appointee of the president called Virgilio Andrade.Andrade oversaw the investigation into the White House from his position as comptroller general. He resigned the job on Monday, saying that it had been superceeded by the new anti-corruption laws that framed the day's presidential mea culpa.Known as the National Anticorruption System, the new system gives a citizens committee power of oversight over the mechanisms in place to make corruption both more difficult and more painful for those officials who are tempted to stray."If we want to recuperate the public's trust we all need to be able to criticize ourselves," Peña Nieto said in his speech. "We have to look at ourselves in the mirror, starting with the president of the republic."
Follow Jo Tuckman on Twitter: @jotuckman