Things are not getting any better for Mexican President Peña Nieto

Courtesy International Times

A few weeks after taking office as governor of the State of Mexico in late 2005, President Enrique Peña Nieto purchased a property in an exclusive golf club from a businessman who helped transform this sleepy town into a popular resort known for its Roman-style thermal baths.

Roberto San Román Widerkehr, the seller of the weekend residence and developer of an exclusive golf club here, also founded a local construction firm which went on to win more than $100 million in public-works contracts during Mr. Peña Nieto’s time as governor from 2005 to 2011, according to documents viewed by various entities.

Since Mr. Peña Nieto became president in 2012, Mr. San Román’s firm has won at least 11 federal contracts, government records show, becoming a national player with business in several states. Before Mr. Peña Nieto came to power, the company had never won a contract directly from the federal government.

Mr. Peña Nieto’s spokesman denied any relation between the private transaction and the contractor’s success with government contracts. The San Román family didn’t respond to requests to comment. Mr. San Román died in 2010 after which his son took over the business.

But the transaction is another example of the extensive personal links between politicians and businessmen from Mr. Peña Nieto’s home state that led to accusations by politicians and others of influence peddling that are roiling his administration. The public outcry risks distracting the government from implementing economic overhauls and damaging his party’s support before midterm elections in June.

The Mexican leader has been on the defensive since November, when a team of Mexican investigative journalists revealed that a prominent government contractor from the State of Mexico, Juan Armando Hinojosa, built and held the title to a presidential family mansion in Mexico City.

It later emerged that Mexico’s finance minister, Luis Videgaray, also bought a home in another exclusive State of Mexico golf resort—along with a loan to finance the purchase—from Mr. Hinojosa, whose companies have won hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of public-works projects during Mr. Peña Nieto’s time as state governor and during his current administration.

The president’s office and Mr. Videgaray have denied any impropriety. Mr. Peña Nieto’s office said the leader’s wife bought the family mansion with her own earnings.
Mr. Hinojosa has declined to comment about either transaction and hasn’t made any public remarks on the matters.

Mr. Peña Nieto disclosed the transaction, at the Ixtapan Country Club Gran Reserva, when he purchased the 23,000-square-foot property, complying with requirements for Mexico’s public officials to file annual asset declarations. But the identity of the seller was unknown until now.

Presidential spokesman Eduardo Sánchez said the president bought the $372,000 home at market prices and the transaction didn’t represent any conflict of interest. “The relationship of Mr. Peña Nieto with some members of the San Román family goes back several decades,” Mr. Sánchez said, adding that the president bought the home as a weekend getaway in a town known for its balmy weather.

Local historians say that the San Románs form part of a dynasty that has played a prominent role in the development of Ixtapan de la Sal ever since Mr. San Román’s father obtained a federal concession in the 1940s to build a hotel and spa at the springs, 75 miles southwest of Mexico City.

Over generations, many members of the San Román family promoted the tourist and real-estate development of a town that became a preferred weekend destination for residents of Toluca, the state capital.

The club’s adjacent neighborhood is unofficially known as “Colonia de EPN”, the initials of the president’s name, part of a local tradition to name neighborhoods, roads and bridges after public servants and benefactors. The town’s main avenue is named Arturo San Román Chávez, in honor of the family’s patriarch who turned the springs of Ixtapan as one of Mexico’s most popular water parks.

The San Románs have long been close to senior members of Mr. Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Former Governor Alfredo del Mazo González, who has family ties with Mr. Peña Nieto, was for a time a shareholder of Inmobiliaria Club de Golf Ixtapan, the real-estate firm controlled by the San Románs, according to commercial records.

The State of Mexico, the country’s most populous, is a bastion of support for the PRI, which has never lost a gubernatorial election there since its creation in 1929.

Business and politics have also been closely linked in the state. Mr. Peña Nieto has been friend of the San Románs for decades, Mr. Sánchez said. Members of the San

Román family also attended Mr. Peña Nieto’s wedding in 2010.

At the golf resort, the cheapest house for sale—with 2,260 square feet—is on the market for $241,000 (3.5 million pesos), said a resort saleswoman. The cheapest plot of land of 4,305 square feet—is on sale for $88,000.

The San Románs, who founded their construction firm, Constructora Urbanizadora Ixtapan SA, in late 1998, rely on public contracts for the bulk of the company’s portfolio, according to its website. The company won some minor contracts in the State of Mexico under Mr. Peña Nieto’s predecessor.

Business picked up during Mr. Peña Nieto’s 2005-2011 term as governor, when it won $107 million in public works contracts across the state, including several roads and highways and part of a contract to build two hospitals in the towns of Amecameca and Chimalhuacán, according to government records.

It also won a contract to build a parking lot at the Toluca airport in the state capital. The federal government held a 25-percent stake in the company that operated the Toluca airport.

During Mr. Peña Nieto’s federal administration, the construction firm has won 11 federal contracts worth around $40 million. Six of those were no bid contracts. The company has been expanding its business to states far from Ixtapan de la Sal and the State of Mexico, such as Baja California Sur or Querétaro.

The spokesman for the president, Mr. Sánchez, said there was no favoritism involved and said all public tenders are awarded through a transparent process.


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