Phone tapping scandal envelops Mexican ruling party candidate
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's ruling party presidential candidate has been forced on the defensive after a leaked recording emerged in which she appeared to accuse the government of spying on her phone calls.
In what seems to be a conversation between Josefina Vazquez Mota and a campaign official, she blames members of President Felipe Calderon's cabinet for taping her calls, fueling talk of divisions in her party's faltering bid to retain the presidency.
Calderon's conservative National Action Party (PAN) on Tuesday said the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was behind the tape after the campaign official, Agustin Torres, filed an official complaint about it late on Monday.
The incident creates a fresh headache for Vazquez Mota, who has been struggling to close a big gap with PRI presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto.
Barely three months remain until the July 1 vote.
In the call, first released on the Internet, a woman sounding like Vazquez Mota tells Torres to say hello to presidential spokeswoman Alejandra Sota and Minister for Public Security Genaro Garcia Luna because they are listening in.
"A warm greeting for Genaro Garcia Luna who is recording us instead of recording 'El Chapo,'" referring to Mexico's most wanted drug boss Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman," the voice says.
"And a hello to Alejandra Sota who leaks all of our phone calls. Damn Sota ...," it adds.
Torres admitted it was his voice when he submitted the complaint to the attorney general's office, though Vazquez Mota has declined to confirm she was speaking on the tape.
Her campaign has been hurt by infighting and rows over the PAN's selection of congressional candidates for the elections, as well as a botched rally this month where she was left addressing half-empty stands in a major soccer stadium.
The latest opinion poll published by newspaper Milenio showed Pena Nieto leading the presidential race with 32.6 percent support and Vazquez Mota trailing with 19.6 percent.
The presidential campaign officially begins on Friday.
Vazquez Mota won the PAN's nomination in a primary vote despite the fact that former finance minister Ernesto Cordero was widely seen as Calderon's preferred candidate.
Calderon's government said they were not involved in spying.
But rather than address the conversation itself, the PAN tried to turn the spotlight onto illegal wire tapping, which it says is an old PRI trick used against political rivals.
"There was an invasion, a violation of privacy. This is a practice that was invented and cultivated by the PRI over decades and is still practiced today," PAN spokesman Juan Gutierrez told local radio.
"The PRI is the only party that would have an interest in creating a scandal around this conversation obtained illegally and distributed illegally," Gutierrez said.
Pena Nieto's campaign chief Luis Videgaray denied the PRI was responsible for the incident.
"The attorney general's office will investigate but the position of our candidate is very clear. These practices are a crime," he told reporters.
The telegenic Pena Nieto is trying to bring a new face to the PRI, which was known to use spying and other dirty tricks against political rivals to stay in power for seven decades.
"There was a fair amount of political espionage during the period of one party domination, and it was used as a way to undermine and control the party's enemies," said Eric Olsen at Mexico expert at Washington's Woodrow Wilson center.
(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; editing by Todd Eastham)