Mexican president's wife backs out of mansion deal

Mexico's first lady backing out of controversial mansion deal with builder who has government contracts

The wife of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto says she will get rid of the mansion she was buying from a builder who had won numerous, lucrative contracts from the government, an arrangement that had created the appearance of a major conflict of interest.

Angelica Rivera, a former soap-opera star, went on her familiar medium, Mexican television, via her personal website to announce her decision Tuesday night.

She said her acquisition of the white-marble home, reportedly worth $7 million and built to the first couple’s specifications, had created a “pretext” for critics to attack her husband.

“I am here to defend my integrity, that of my family and of my husband,” she said.

With newly blond locks, she added that she was speaking out because “I have nothing to hide.”

Rivera said her 25-year career at the Televisa television network, though it ended half a decade ago, earned her the money to pay for the home. The seven-bedroom manse is located in the suburban hills of Lomas de Chapultepec on Mexico City’s western edge.

Last week, the president's office said that Rivera had signed a contract to buy the house almost a year before Peña Nieto took office in 2012 and was making payments to the builder.

Rivera acknowledged being friendly with Juan Armando Hinojosa, builder of the mansion and owner of a conglomerate of companies, one of which this month won a $4-billion contract to construct a bullet train from Mexico City to the industrial hub of Queretaro.

His firms also won numerous multimillion-dollar contracts in the state of Mexico when Peña Nieto was governor there from 2005 to 2011.

The bullet train contract was rescinded a few days after it was awarded and on the eve of exposure of the mansion deal by a Mexican investigative journalism team headed by Carmen Aristegui.

A government spokesman said there was no connection between the two events. The train contract was canceled, government spokesmen said, because of a need for greater transparency in the bidding process.

Suspicions around the mansion deal came at a particularly difficult time for Peña Nieto, who is facing numerous crises, including the disappearance and apparent massacre of 43 college students by drug gangs working with police and local politicians in Guerrero state.

For more news out of Mexico, Latin America, follow @TracyKWilkinson

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