Mexico's Pena Nieto plans no mea culpa in house scandal: spokesman

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, embroiled along with his wife and finance minister in a scandal over homes bought from and financed by a government contractor, plans no mea culpa, his spokesman said on Tuesday, dismissing any conflict of interest.

In November, the government abruptly canceled a $3.75 billion rail contract awarded to a consortium that included a unit of a group headed by businessman Juan Armando Hinojosa, which owned a luxury house that Pena Nieto’s wife was acquiring.

Soon afterwards, it emerged that Pena Nieto himself enjoyed rent-free use of a house owned by a Hinojosa subsidiary as a campaign office when he was running for office in 2012.

Then, it transpired that Finance Minister Luis Videgaray had bought a house from another company belonging to Hinojosa shortly before he was appointed.

Hinojosa’s companies have won hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of public contracts during Pena Nieto’s 2005-2011 governorship of the State of Mexico and his presidency, but the government insists nothing untoward has occurred.

“There will always be a mea culpa when we have made a wrong decision, and not just a mea culpa, but a correction,” presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said in an interview, dismissing the idea of a presidential apology.

“Mexican law does not establish any irregularity in the conduct of the finance minister or the president,” he added. “There is no conflict of interest.”

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Pena Nieto, who met U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on Tuesday, has also denied any impropriety, but surveys have shown that Mexicans do not agree.

Zoe Robledo, a leftist opposition senator, said he believed “there would have been an impeachment at least” if the U.S. president, his first lady and the treasury secretary had become entangled in a comparable case.

The house scandal is one of a number of problems plaguing Pena Nieto, who is under growing pressure to curb gang violence following the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers in late September, as well as lackluster economic growth.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in gang-related violence in Mexico since 2007, and critics say Pena Nieto failed to prioritize the problem during his first two years when his government was focused on a string of economic reforms.

Sanchez said the government would stick to its strategy.

“We will make the necessary adjustments,” he said. “We think that we are on the right track.”

Additional reporting by Dave Graham; editing by Andrew Hay