World News

Son of Mexican official probed over ventilator sales to government

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico will investigate a report that a company owned by the son of a top official sold overpriced ventilators to the government during the coronavirus crisis, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday.

Mexicanos Contra la Corrupcion y la Impunidad (MCCI), a civil anti-corruption group, said a state arm of Mexico’s social security institute (IMSS) bought the devices from Cyber Robotic Solutions, a firm owned by Leon Manuel Bartlett, son of Manuel Bartlett, head of national electricity company CFE.

In the May 1 report, the group said IMSS purchased 20 ventilators last month for 1.55 million pesos each, or nearly double the sum paid by the government for some other ventilators in separate contracts around the same time.

The younger Bartlett denied the allegations in a letter on Twitter, saying the contracting process was transparent, featured reasonable prices and that other ventilators had been sold to the public authorities for more.

CFE chief Bartlett was last year himself the subject of an ethics probe when critics alleged he had failed to make public the full extent of his wealth in official declarations, or ties to companies that represented a potential conflict of interest.

The government-led probe into Bartlett, a close ally of the president, exonerated him of any wrongdoing.

Lopez Obrador has put rooting out corruption at the heart of his administration. Critics accuse him of failing to apply the same standards to his allies as he does to adversaries.

When asked at a regular news conference about the case involving Bartlett’s son, he initially mocked MCCI, referring to the group as “Mexicans in favour of corruption” rather than “against corruption” as its name in Spanish denotes.

He then reiterated his commitment to eradicating corruption before launching an attack against media that criticise him.

“In this case, the Public Administration Ministry has to do its job, do its investigation and if it shows that this person is responsible, he will have to be sanctioned just like the official who gave this contract,” Lopez Obrador said.

“But what I want to underline, what’s behind this, is this desire to weaken our government,” he added, then spent several minutes complaining about what he said was a campaign by hypocritical media to discredit his administration.

Lopez Obrador has previously criticized MCCI, which is backed by business leaders with whom he has long fought.

($1 = 24.3599 Mexican pesos)

Reporting by Raul Cortes; Editing by Cynthia Osterman