Mexican president says money stolen by corrupt officials must be returned

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a news conference at the presidential hangar, at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, Mexico, July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday money stolen by corrupt officials should be returned, a day after it emerged that a key witness in his battle against corruption had accused former presidents, ministers and lawmakers of graft.

The president’s demand came after a photocopy of a 63-page declaration by Emilio Lozoya, a former chief executive of national oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), began circulating in Mexican media on Wednesday.

In the document, which was seen by Reuters, Lozoya accused ex-presidents Felipe Calderon and Carlos Salinas of corruption, along with former president Enrique Pena Nieto, his ex-finance minister, Luis Videgaray, and more than a dozen others.

“They have to return the money,” Lopez Obrador told reporters during a regular morning press conference, without specifiying to whom he was referring.

Lozoya was extradited from Spain last month to face trial for taking bribes and money laundering, which he denies.

Lopez Obrador described the leaked testimony as “very serious” while maintaining that its accusations need to be properly investigated by the Attorney General’s office.

Lozoya’s case has become the centerpiece of Lopez Obrador’s drive to expose corruption that he says was rampant in past governments before he took office in late 2018.

Former president Calderon called the accusations against him “ridiculous” on Twitter. Neither Pena Nieto nor Videgaray has commented publicly since Lozoya’s allegations surfaced, but previously they have denied any wrongdoing.

Salinas could not be immediately reached for comment.

Reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez, writing by Laura Gottesdiener; Editing by Steve Orlofsky