Mexico's first lady, Angelica Rivera, will sell her interest in the seven-million-dollar house that has become the center of a conflict-of-interest scandal, she announced Tuesday at a public news conference.
Her announcement came a day after her husband, President Enrique Peña Nieto, had asked Rivera to explain how she acquired the house. As yet neither he, nor Rivera, have explained why she was intending to buy a house owned by one of the winning bidders for a large public project.
Rivera initially said she had “nothing to hide,” when questioned about the acquisition of the multi-million dollar property, saying she bought it with her own money.
An investigation ten days ago revealed the house was owned by Grupo Higa, linked to China Railway Construction Corporation Ltd., who had won a US$3.75 billion high-speed rail contract with the government, which was subsequently canceled.
The investigation also revealed that the high-speed rail bid was not the first one that Peña Nieto gave to the consortium. Since he became governor of the state of Mexico, Peña Nieto has granted the company several multi-million-dollar public works contracts. Furthermore, during Peña Nieto's presidential campaign in 2012, he used to travel in helicopters owned by Grupo Higa.
Rivera says she had paid off about 14.3 million pesos (US$1.05 million) of the value of the house, and would sell her stake to settle any outstanding questions about the matter. The first lady also explained that a separate luxury house in which she and her family used to live was given to her by Televisa, the most powerful Mexican broadcaster.
Rivera used to be a soap opera star while working for Televisa, before marrying Peña Nieto. In her address, Rivera remarked that she had earned millions of dollars while working for the company, and had the means to pay for the home.
"I've worked all my life and thanks to that I'm an independent woman." said Rivera.
Televisa has also been closely linked to Peña Nieto's administration.
“Along with this explanation that I am giving you I am also making private documents public even though I have no obligation to do so, since, as I have said, I am not an official. But I can not allow this issue to question my honor, or to allow it to damage my family,” the first lady said.
Mexican Twitter users expressed outrage at the scandal, pointing out that the issue of the conflict of interest remained unexplained.
“Let's not be fooled. The issue is not about what Peña's wife says, but that a chief of State accepts briberies.” Mexican journalist Epigmenio Ibarra tweeted.
Others took a more ironic tone.
“Damn, why did I move to Azteca and then to L.A. if Televisa paid so well?” asked Mexican actress Ana de la Reguera, who used to work for the television network.
The scandal has further sullied President Peña Nieto's public image and integrity, alongside the systemic corruption exposed by the death and abduction of students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training school, which has fuelled widespread civil unrest.