June 1, 2015 / 8:12 PM / 2 years ago

Mexican president changes asset declaration in wake of report on land deal

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto gestures during an investment announcement from brewer Grupo Modelo in Merida in Yucatan state, at Los Pinos Presidential house in Mexico City, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Under pressure to detail his personal wealth, Mexico’s president has made changes to his declaration of assets following a Reuters report that cast doubt on how he acquired one of his properties near Mexico City.

President Enrique Pena Nieto released the annual update to his declaration of assets late on Sunday, days after a Reuters report showed he purchased a 1,000 square meter plot of land in the town of Valle de Bravo that he has declared as a donation from his late father.

Opposition lawmakers from left and right have demanded that Pena Nieto make a full declaration of his assets, which total at least $3 million.

The new declaration added notes explaining why Pena Nieto had described the purchased property, as well as another 24,000 square meter plot of land, as donations from his father.

“The price was paid by my father, Enrique Pena del Mazo, who determined that the properties would be in my name, and it is for that reason that the same are declared as donations,” the note said.

A public registry document that Reuters obtained shows that Pena Nieto purchased the property. There is no reference to his father in the document.

Lawyers consulted by Reuters said the incorrect asset declaration constitutes a false statement to authorities.

Asked about that interpretation and the discrepancy, presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told Reuters that there is no discrepancy.

“In 1988, his father covered the purchase price, and put the property in his son’s name,” Sanchez said. “It is a common practice within the legal framework in Mexico for a parent or tutor to buy a property and register it under the name of their descendent. That’s why it is not on the public deed.”

Lawyers said that, under Mexican law, even if his father gave him the money to purchase the property, he could not declare it as a donation, pointing to articles 7610 and 7620 of the Civil Code of the State of Mexico, the region where Valle de Bravo lies.

In all, Pena Nieto has disclosed six real estate assets which he lists as gifts from his parents. Sanchez said he was unable to provide documents proving the six properties were donated by his parents, saying that public registry documents “don’t necessarily record” that.

Pena Nieto, 48, has been under pressure in recent months over conflict-of-interest scandals centered on properties that he, his wife Angelica Rivera and Finance Minister Luis Videgaray acquired from government contractors.

The latest declaration also changed references to the values of three properties Pena Nieto acquired in the 1980s.

In his prior statement of assets, the properties were incorrectly valued in so-called old pesos, which undervalued them by a factor of 1,000. The amended declaration values the holdings in new pesos. Mexico revalued the peso in 1993, which lopped three zeroes off the currency.

The declaration made no reference to the exchange rate at the time of the acquisitions, nor inflation since, making it hard to specify their real current worth. The three-page document does not state where the president’s properties are located.

Asked to confirm the address of the property in Valle de Bravo, and the location of the other five donated properties, Sanchez said the president had given the information required of him, and that such additional information was “not subject to public scrutiny”.

Asked to give Reuters the president’s asset declarations from 2000 through 2012, Sanchez said he could not as he did not have access to the information.

Editing by Dave Graham and Kieran Murray

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