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Few believe Mexico’s first lady made enough as TV star to pay for mansion

In this YouTube video posted on Nov. 18, 2014 on the personal Website of Mexico's first lady, Angelica Rivera, the wife of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tries to clarify a scandal over her purchase of a mansion from a government contractor, saying she used her own money in the deal and plans to put her stake in the home up for sale to avoid any doubts.
In this YouTube video posted on Nov. 18, 2014 on the personal Website of Mexico's first lady, Angelica Rivera, the wife of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto tries to clarify a scandal over her purchase of a mansion from a government contractor, saying she used her own money in the deal and plans to put her stake in the home up for sale to avoid any doubts. AP

Mexico’s first lady, soap opera star Angelica Rivera, is back in the spotlight. But rather than receiving public adulation, she’s the subject of ridicule.

A poll released over the weekend found that three-quarters of Mexicans think Rivera isn’t telling the truth about how much she earned during her television career and how she paid for a $7 million mansion that’s at the heart of a political scandal enveloping her husband, President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Among those scoffing at Rivera are fellow television actors, who contend she never pulled in the kind of money she claims.

Political analysts and columnists say the attention on Rivera, whose fame soared with a hit 2007 soap opera, was designed to take the heat off Pena Nieto himself.

Rivera posted a video on her website last Tuesday detailing how she’d amassed a net worth of $10.4 million during a 25-year television career at Televisa, the world’s biggest Spanish-language media conglomerate and a company that’s always defended the interests of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Since then, Televisa has stayed mum and Rivera has been left alone to deal with a rain of public criticism.

“She’s been devoured by public opinion, on social media, and the president hasn’t gained any credibility. They handed her over to the wolves!” Nacho Lozano, a television anchor, wrote in a column Monday for Publimetro, a free newspaper for commuters.

The results of the nationwide telephone poll by the Reforma news group, released Saturday, found that 77 percent of the 400 people surveyed don’t believe Rivera’s explanation of how she obtained the mansion, known as the White House, in Mexico City’s posh Lomas de Chapultepec district. Some 13 percent said they did believe her and 10 percent said they didn’t know.

In her video, Rivera acknowledged that a subsidiary of Grupo Higa, a major government contractor, had built the mansion to her design specifications and that once it was completed, she’d paid a portion of the cost and agreed to pay the rest over eight years at below-market interest rates.

The Reforma poll found that 71 percent of those asked thought the mansion deal represented a conflict of interest for the first couple.

Pena Nieto has sidestepped the issue of a conflict of interest, saying the mansion belonged solely to his wife. The president’s spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez, speaking on two occasions, has denied any conflict of interest.

Senators from opposition parties both to the political left and right of the ruling PRI, as Pena Nieto’s party is known, have demanded a judicial probe of the mansion, alleging that the contractor sought influence with the first couple.

In her video, Rivera said she wasn’t a public servant and had decided to reveal her personal assets only to clear up the scandal over the mansion. The assets she revealed showed she’s worth three times more than Pena Nieto, whom she married four years ago.

As the first lady, Rivera is the honorary head of the national social services agency and maintains a staff of eight employees at Los Pinos, the presidential residence. She doesn’t receive a salary.

Among those criticizing Rivera are fellow actors.

“Why did I go to Azteca and then to L.A. if Televisa pays so well?” tweeted Ana de la Reguera, a Mexican actress who burnished her fame at TV Azteca, a rival to Televisa.

Thalia, a singer and actress who goes by a sole stage name, said Rivera’s assertion “made me laugh a lot” and that she, not Rivera, was the highest-paid Televisa star. Even so, she said, Televisa never paid for a mansion for her.

Word of the high salaries that Rivera claimed Televisa was paying even reached Hollywood. Rob Schneider, the standup comic, “Saturday Night Live” veteran and movie star, sent out his own tweet: “Well, that’s it! I’m moving to MEXICO to get a job on a SOAP OPERA. I hear they PAY 10 MILLION!”

A columnist in the newspaper Milenio, Laura Ibarra, wrote that Rivera had become “collateral damage in the effort to brake the plunge in popularity of Pena Nieto in recent weeks.”

Rivera isn’t the only member of Mexico’s first family to feel public pressure. Her oldest daughter from an earlier marriage, Sofia Castro, who’s also an actress, found herself running from hecklers when she arrived for the Latin Grammys in Las Vegas last Thursday.

A television host for Univision, Raul de Molina, chased Castro through the halls of the MGM Grand, finally cornering her for an interview.

But when de Molina asked about earlier remarks in which Castro seemed to display little compassion for 43 students in Mexico, who went missing two months ago and apparently were killed by gangsters, Castro looked uncomfortable and walked away without saying a word.

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