Mexico clears ally of president of wrongdoing after ethics probe

MEXICO CITY, Dec 19 (Reuters) - A Mexican government investigation cleared an influential ally of the president of any wrongdoing on Thursday, after critics alleged the head of the state power utility had hidden a vast real estate portfolio and conflicts of interest.

The Public Administration Ministry (SFP) opened the probe into Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) Chief Executive Manuel Bartlett after media reports said he had not fully disclosed the extent of his wealth in official declarations, or his ties to certain companies, including one offering electricity services and another that won a contract under the current government.

The allegations against Bartlett, a veteran and sometimes divisive figure in Mexican politics, were a potential embarrassment to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office last December vowing to root out entrenched corruption.

Lopez Obrador, a leftist who tapped Bartlett for his current role, had said the CFE boss was under attack by adversaries when the allegations first surfaced in reports by Mexican journalists Areli Quintero and Carlos Loret de Mola.

Irma Sandoval, the head of the SFP, said that Bartlett had filed his wealth declarations correctly.

“From the records we collected ... it does not follow that Mr. Manuel Bartlett Diaz has had any kind of conflict of interest,” she told reporters.

Sandoval said Bartlett had no administrative involvement with the companies about which he had been questioned, and that he was not obligated to disclose properties belonging to children or partners who were not dependents, referring to his declarations.

The SFP had acted independently in the case, she added.

“There are no untouchables,” she said. “We’re taking action, and will keep taking action with the law in our hands.”

Bartlett is well known in Mexico for announcing during the 1988 presidential election that the vote-counting computers had crashed as the main opposition candidate was in the lead.

At the time, Bartlett was interior minister for the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

When the computers came back online, the PRI candidate had won, drawing accusations of fraud from critics.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christopher Cushing