Mexican president wants graft testimony from predecessors Calderon and Pena Nieto

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday the two presidents who preceded him should testify about corruption after a complaint by a former head of state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos, known as Pemex.

Lopez Obrador’s position that both former President Enrique Pena Nieto and his predecessor Felipe Calderon should speak to prosecutors raises the stakes in his drive to root out corruption he says plagued previous governments.

“Ex-President Calderon, ex-President Pena (Nieto), the lawmakers who are mentioned, the senators, all those mentioned have to testify,” Lopez Obrador said at his daily morning news conference. He stressed that he did not assume their guilt.

His comments came a day after former Pemex chief Emilio Lozoya filed a complaint saying Pena Nieto and his finance minister, Luis Videgaray, had instructed him to direct bribes to Pena Nieto’s 2012 election campaign and to buy votes in Congress.

The testimony is related to a plea deal under which Lozoya returned to Mexico from Spain to face corruption charges without being held in pre-trial detention.

Lopez Obrador’s decision to target Calderon in his comments was notable. Attorney General Alejandro Gertz this week revealed details of Lozoya’s complaint, but did not mention Calderon by name despite referring to corruption during his administration.

President from 2006-2012, Calderon remains a vocal critic of Lopez Obrador, who in turn accuses his rival of overseeing a “narco state” based on a U.S. case against Calderon’s top security official.

Calderon’s small opposition party, Free Mexico, is seeking to win seats from the ruling MORENA party in congressional midterm elections next year, when Lopez Obrador will be fighting from a record of deep economic contraction following the pandemic.

Lopez Obrador called on Lozoya, who headed Pemex from 2012 to 2016, to come forward with evidence to back his accusations.

Calderon’s media office said the former president’s position was that any evidence against him should be brought forward.

“They should stop using the attorney general’s office as an apparatus for political persecution,” the media office said.

Reuters was unable to immediately reach a representative of Pena Nieto.

Lopez Obrador’s naming of Calderon appeared to reflect part of Lozoya’s complaint that Attorney General Alejandro Gertz said referred to irregularities in the construction of a petrochemical plant.

According to Gertz, Lozoya said he received more than 100 million pesos ($4.5 million) from Brazilian firm Odebrecht [ODBES.UL], most of which went to advisers in Pena Nieto’s election campaign. Odebrecht has previously admitted to paying bribes in Mexico.

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