Criticized by President, Mexico auditor backtracks on airport cancellation cost

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s Federal Audit Office (ASF) retracted a report that found President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s decision to cancel a partly built airport in Mexico City had cost 332 billion pesos ($16 billion), hours after the president denounced its findings.

In a statement published late on Monday the ASF said it had ordered a review into its report after finding “inconsistencies”. Its figure for the cost of cancelling the airport had been too high, due to a flaw in methodology, it said.

Lopez Obrador has defended his 2018 decision to cancel the airport, his predecessor’s flagship project. In 2019, the transport ministry estimated the cost of the cancellation at 100 million pesos.

At a news conference on Monday, Lopez Obrador criticized the ASF, calling its figures an exaggeration and demanding the auditor explain how it arrived at them.

The ASF said it would publish a final revised report once its review was complete.

Lopez Obrador canceled the airport after arguing that the project, initially slated to cost $13 billion, was riddled with corruption and geologically unsound. His party oversaw a public consultation on the decision, but his opponents said this was too limited, as barely 1 percent of the population took part.

The cancellation sent shock waves through financial markets, and the government has paid billions of dollars to compensate investors. Nevertheless, Lopez Obrador has always maintained that his decision saved the public coffers.

Afterwards, he ordered the construction of a cheaper alternative airport north of the city, overseen by the army.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Sharay Angulo; Editing by Peter Graff