Mexican president owns no cars or real estate, but his wife does

Reuters , Saturday 5 Jan 2019

Mexican President
File Photo: Mexico's president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador shows his watch following a question by a reporter after a news conference in Mexico City, Mexico July 22, 2018. (Reuters)

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday he owns no real estate, vehicles or personal property, echoing what experts say is a pattern among the country's politicians of shifting assets to relatives.

Lopez Obrador, who took office in December, told a regular news conference his family's cars and home are in his wife's name.

The veteran leftist won a landslide victory in July after a campaign centered on rooting out corruption in Mexico, which experts say is among the worst in Latin America. Heg cuts an austere figure, ditching the presidential residence, flying coach and driving a white Volkswagen Jetta.

Transparency advocates welcome Lopez Obrador's disclosure after battling to get members of his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto's administration to open up about their finances, said Alexandra Zapata of the Mexican Institution for Competitiveness (IMCO), a think-tank that promotes good governance and fighting corruption.

But his declaration raised as many questions about his wealth as it answered, she added.

"The president, in an effort to send this message of austerity, loses credibility in how he talks about his property, his assets and his interests," said Zapata, who is the group's director of education and civic innovation.

Lopez Obrador disclosed monthly net income of 108,744 pesos ($5,600) from his government work and savings worth 446,068 pesos.

In addition to real estate and vehicles, Lopez Obrador's personal possessions and household goods, including works of art and other valuable objects, were disclosed in his wife's name, a spokesman for the president's office said.

Mexican politicians have long been accused of obscuring their wealth by registering assets under relatives' names. Those who absorb the assets are sometimes referred to as "prestanombres," or people who lend their names.

Lopez Obrador has slashed salaries for public officials, including his own, and stressed on Friday that others in his administration would be required to declare their assets, too.

The president said during the news conference that his principal asset had been a property in the southern state of Chiapas, which he inherited from his parents and is now registered under his children's names.

"Money has never interested me," he said. "I fight for ideals, for principles."

Under a new national anti-corruption system, federal, state and local officials will soon be required to submit detailed disclosures about their income and assets, as well as those of their families. Lopez Obrador has long cast himself as a man of the people in a poor country. During the news conference, he said he has no credit card, a common refrain in his speeches. Just 37 percent of Mexicans had an account with a bank or other type of financial institution in 2017, according to a World Bank study of people over 15 years old.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who backed another candidate in the election, criticized the disclosure.

"Only his grandmother could believe this," Fox wrote in a post on Twitter. "Wake up, Mexico!!!"

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