World

Mexico’s first lady will sell mansion at heart of conflict allegations

A worker stands outside a mansion that belongs to Mexico's first lady Angelica Rivera, located at Sierra Gorda 150 in a luxury neighborhood of Mexico City, Nov. 10, 2014.
A worker stands outside a mansion that belongs to Mexico's first lady Angelica Rivera, located at Sierra Gorda 150 in a luxury neighborhood of Mexico City, Nov. 10, 2014. AP

Mexico’s first lady says she’ll sell an opulent $7 million house she obtained from a business conglomerate that’s profited from hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts.

First lady Angelica Rivera de Peña made the announcement in a seven-minute video posted to YouTube late Tuesday.

“I have nothing to hide,” Rivera said, noting that she’d built up substantial assets during a 25-year career as an actress and personality in the Televisa media empire. “I have always acted in an ethical way.”

She said the uproar over her ownership of the stunning white mansion in the Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood of Mexico City, which she says she purchased in 2012 from a company owned by wealthy contractor Juan Armando Hinojosa, threatened her reputation and her husband’s.

Her husband, President Enrique Peña Nieto, hadn’t reported the house on financial disclosure forms, and in her video, Rivera argued that he wasn’t required to.

“I’ve worked my whole life, and thanks to this I am independent. I have built my assets with honesty and with all my work,” she said.

“I don’t want this to continue as a pretext to offend and defame my family,” Rivera said, anger in her voice. “I am not a public servant, but I cannot permit this matter to put into doubt my honor and (that of) my family.”

With the video and copies of the sales contract for the 7,400-square-foot mansion, which she also posted on the Internet, Rivera and Peña Nieto tried to put to rest more than a week of political debate over the propriety of the first family doing business with a large government contractor.

Peña Nieto had said earlier Tuesday that the scandal over what’s called the White House is based on “unfounded assertions . . . and completely inaccurate accusations.” He said he was determined to be transparent about his family’s assets.

In battling the accusations, Peña Nieto and Rivera have focused on whether she had the liquidity and assets to buy the property, not on the propriety of doing business with a major state contractor.

Until the release of the video, Rivera hadn’t spoken about the property.

Details of her ownership of the mansion came out Nov. 9 on the website of aristeguinoticias.com, operated by Carmen Aristegui, a renowned television and radio personality who runs an investigative team. At the time, Peña Nieto and Rivera were headed to Beijing for a regional summit.

Opposition legislators have said the purchase of the custom-built mansion is an example of crony capitalism. A subsidiary of Grupo Higa, which won hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts during the 2005-2011 period when Peña Nieto was the governor of the state of Mexico, built and sold the home to Rivera.

Moreover, the story came out just days after Peña Nieto’s government granted, then suddenly canceled, a high-speed rail contract to a Chinese-led consortium that included Constructora Teya, a Grupo Higa subsidiary. The consortium was the sole bidder on the rail line. Peña Nieto said his government would reopen the bidding to seek more offers.

In her video, Rivera said she’d met Hinojosa, Grupo Higa’s founder and owner, in 2009, “just as I have met many businessmen, professionals, artists and other people.”

She said he agreed to build her a house in 2010 and that construction was completed on Jan. 12, 2012, at which time she paid the equivalent of $4 million and agreed to pay the rest over eight years at 9 percent annual interest. She said she’d paid about 30 percent of the remaining debt. A copy of the sales contract appeared on her website Wednesday morning.

Rivera, a 45-year-old star who’s widely known as La Gaviota, or the Seagull, her nickname in a hugely successful 2007 Televisa soap opera, spent her entire career at the media conglomerate.

For much of the 20th century, Televisa served as the virtual private media arm of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which fell from power after seven decades in 2000. Peña Nieto brought the party back to power in 2012.

Rivera said that as part of her agreement to leave Televisa in 2010 shortly after she married Peña Nieto, the media conglomorate gave her a house adjacent to the mansion in question.

She said in the video that she wasn’t required to publicly disclose her assets but was doing so to clear the air. She also released a portion of her 2010 tax forms, saying she’d reported income of around $10 million and paid about $3 million in taxes on it.

Rivera said she also owned apartments in Miami and in the Herradura district of Mexico City.

  Comments