Courtesy International Times
A few weeks after taking office as governor of the State of Mexico in late 2005, President Enrique PeÃ±a 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 RomÃ¡n 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. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™s time as governor from 2005 to 2011, according to documents viewed by various entities.
Since Mr. PeÃ±a Nieto became president in 2012, Mr. San RomÃ¡nâ€™s firm has won at least 11 federal contracts, government records show, becoming a national player with business in several states. Before Mr. PeÃ±a Nieto came to power, the company had never won a contract directly from the federal government.
Mr. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™s spokesman denied any relation between the private transaction and the contractorâ€™s success with government contracts. The San RomÃ¡n family didnâ€™t respond to requests to comment. Mr. San RomÃ¡n 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. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™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 partyâ€™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 Mexicoâ€™s finance minister, Luis Videgaray, also bought a home in another exclusive State of Mexico golf resortâ€”along with a loan to finance the purchaseâ€”from Mr. Hinojosa, whose companies have won hundreds of millions of dollarsâ€™ worth of public-works projects during Mr. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™s time as state governor and during his current administration.
The presidentâ€™s office and Mr. Videgaray have denied any impropriety. Mr. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™s office said the leaderâ€™s wife bought the family mansion with her own earnings.
Mr. Hinojosa has declined to comment about either transaction and hasnâ€™t made any public remarks on the matters.
Mr. PeÃ±a Nieto disclosed the transaction, at the Ixtapan Country Club Gran Reserva, when he purchased the 23,000-square-foot property, complying with requirements for Mexicoâ€™s public officials to file annual asset declarations. But the identity of the seller was unknown until now.
Presidential spokesman Eduardo SÃ¡nchez said the president bought the $372,000 home at market prices and the transaction didnâ€™t represent any conflict of interest. “The relationship of Mr. PeÃ±a Nieto with some members of the San RomÃ¡n family goes back several decades,â€ Mr. SÃ¡nchez 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 RomÃ¡ns form part of a dynasty that has played a prominent role in the development of Ixtapan de la Sal ever since Mr. San RomÃ¡nâ€™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 RomÃ¡n 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 clubâ€™s adjacent neighborhood is unofficially known as “Colonia de EPNâ€, the initials of the presidentâ€™s name, part of a local tradition to name neighborhoods, roads and bridges after public servants and benefactors. The townâ€™s main avenue is named Arturo San RomÃ¡n ChÃ¡vez, in honor of the familyâ€™s patriarch who turned the springs of Ixtapan as one of Mexicoâ€™s most popular water parks.
The San RomÃ¡ns have long been close to senior members of Mr. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Former Governor Alfredo del Mazo GonzÃ¡lez, who has family ties with Mr. PeÃ±a Nieto, was for a time a shareholder of Inmobiliaria Club de Golf Ixtapan, the real-estate firm controlled by the San RomÃ¡ns, according to commercial records.
The State of Mexico, the countryâ€™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. PeÃ±a Nieto has been friend of the San RomÃ¡ns for decades, Mr. SÃ¡nchez said. Members of the San
RomÃ¡n family also attended Mr. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™s wedding in 2010.
At the golf resort, the cheapest house for saleâ€”with 2,260 square feetâ€”is on the market for $241,000 (3.5 million pesos), said a resort saleswoman. The cheapest plot of land of 4,305 square feetâ€”is on sale for $88,000.
The San RomÃ¡ns, who founded their construction firm, Constructora Urbanizadora Ixtapan SA, in late 1998, rely on public contracts for the bulk of the companyâ€™s portfolio, according to its website. The company won some minor contracts in the State of Mexico under Mr. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™s predecessor.
Business picked up during Mr. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™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 ChimalhuacÃ¡n, 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. PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™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. SÃ¡nchez, said there was no favoritism involved and said all public tenders are awarded through a transparent process.