Mexico’s Incoming Financial Intelligence Chief to Probe Odebrecht Bribery Scandal

Santiago Nieto says 'it is shameful that Mexico and Venezuela are the only countries in Latin America that haven’t sanctioned' anyone in connection with Odebrecht bribery case.

Santiago Nieto and Odebrecht
A library picture of Santiago Nieto.

Santiago Nieto, the incoming head of Mexico’s financial intelligence unit, has assured that he would investigate the confession by Brazilian construction company Odebrecht that it bribed Mexican officials to secure government contracts.

“It’s shameful that Mexico and Venezuela are the only countries in Latin America that haven’t sanctioned anyone,” he told Reuters in an interview, referencing the scandal.

In December 2016, the Brazilian business conglomerate admitted that it paid bribes to politicians and officials in nearly a dozen Latin American countries – including Colombia, Peru, and Panama – in exchange for government contracts.

The bribery admission created a political storm across the region, with the president of Peru being forced to resign earlier this year, and the vice-president of Ecuador sent to prison.

Mexico says it is probing Odebrecht’s dealings with its oil company Pemex, but there has been no notable progress on the investigation.

Nieto was in fact part of the team investigating Odebrecht scandal until October 2017, when he was dismissed on the grounds that he disclosed details of the investigation to the media.

The dismissal came barely two days after he told local newspaper Reforma that he was under pressure from former Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya to clear him of the charges. Lozoya, according to the Mexican news daily, was accused of accepting US$10 million in bribes from Odebrecht in exchange for a contract.

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He has maintained that his dismissal was an arbitrary decision and aimed at protecting Emilio Lozoya and the image of President Peña Nieto.

The incoming administration officials have already stated that they would block Odebrecht from bidding on  public works projects in Mexico.