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Mexican President’s ‘White House’
A federal government contractor built a 7 million dollar mansion for the presidential family. This is the english version of the Aristegui Noticias Special Report.
On November 6th 2014, the Mexican Government canceled, abruptly, the Train Mexico-Queretaro’s construction bidding, awarded to a consortium leaded by the Chinese state enterprise China Railway Construction Corporation, and three mexican firms linked to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the President Enrique Peña Nieto.
“Constructora Teya” was one of these firms, part of “Higa Group”, a company that made millionaire profits in public works with the State of Mexico, when Peña Nieto was the governor.
Higa’s Group president is Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantú, who also rented airplanes to the PRI for the 2012 presidential campaign, through its other subsidiary “Eolo Plus”.
Nonetheless, there is one thing that shows the tight relationship between Peña Nieto and Higa Group… A house in Lomas de Chapultepec, one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Mexico City. This is the story.
In May 2013, the ¡Hola! magazine readers found an article that was classified as “exceptional and historical”, as the magazine said itself.
In its pages, they could see the photographs of a luxurious and modern mansion in Las Lomas, along with an interview with the actress Angélica Rivera, the president’s wife.
Rivera talked about the love to her husband, their six sons… and the house:
“In our home we have a life as normal as possible, I have told the kids that Los Pinos (official residence) will be lent to us only for six years and that their real house, their home, is this one where we are doing this interview”.
A long-term investigation, run for months by this journalist’s team, with the International Center for Journalists and the Latin American Journalism Platform Connectas support, has confirmed that this house is in 150 Sierra Gorda Street, and is not registered under the name of Enrique Peña Nieto, nor under Angelica Rivera’s name and neither under their sons’.
The mansion, of approximately 7 million dollars, according to an appraisal made especially for this investigation— is registered under the name of “Ingeniería Inmobiliaria del Centro”, one of “Higa’s Group” subsidiaries.
Higa Group through its other subsidiary “Constructora Teya”, is part of the Consortium that won and later on the construction of the Mexico-Queretaro train was revoked.
The investigation also proves that Presidential Guards surveil the house of Sierra Gorda 150, and that Peña Nieto and Rivera were deeply involved in its design so that the residence could fit with their personal needs.
The house has an underground parking, a mezzanine, and an elevator that connects all the levels. The yard has a covered terrace. The first level has marble floor. It has six rooms for their sons, and the main one has a dressing room, bathrooms and a SPA Area.
The house is all white, and has an illumination system to create atmosphere, it can turn into pink, orange or violet.
The pictures of the residence are in the website www.aragones.com.mx, with the title of “Casa La Palma”.
The architectural drawings locate the house in the Sierra Gorda Street and have a date: October 2010, one month before Peña Nieto and Rivera got married.
The interiors on Aragonés website are the same as those where Rivera posed for the ¡Hola! magazine.
In another interview, with the journalist Alberto Tavira, for the show Los despachos del poder, at TV Azteca, the architect Aragonés confirmed that he had designed the Mexican President’s house.
–Its public that you designed the President’s house, Enrique Peña Nieto. Was it a challenge for you?
-It is always a challenge to work for someone with that relevance and capacity, with that intelligence level, isn’t it? It is always hard to try to capture what someone needs specifically. It becomes a challenge, particularly because I’m used to work only for me, I usually don’t have clients.
Aragonés said he enjoyed working for Peña Nieto:
-Mr. Peña Nieto and his wife were difficult clients?
-No, I think they were one of the most kind, respectful people and easy to work with, both of them. Enrique was a first class person, an intelligent, sensitive, respectful, kind guy, it was a pleasure to work for him.
-Did they want you to design special features?
-Of course, I needed to fulfill a program.
This investigation team asked for an interview with Aragonés, but his press agent, Antonino Trinidad, said that the architect has an agreement of confidentiality.
-He has an agreement of confidentiality with his clients, not only in this case but in general. And he does not has that data.
-So, you are talking about the President’s house. Aren’t you?
On November 12th of 2008, Enrique Peña Nieto admitted, during the TV show Shalalá, that he and Angélica Rivera had a relationship.
-Do you want to know if we have a relationship?
And one day later, on November the 13th of 2008, “Ingeniería Inmobiliaria del Centro” were created, the enterprise that built and is the owner of Peña Nieto and Rivera’s house in Lomas de Chapultepec.
These firm belongs to Juan Armando Hinojosa Cantú, “Higa’s Group” president, according to the documents from the Public Registry of the State of Mexico.
The other owner was his son, Juan Armando Hinojosa García, who died in an air crash in july 2012. The helicopter in which he was flying was of his own enterprise, “Eolo Plus”; the same firm the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had rented airplanes for Peña Nieto’s presidential campaign.
“Higa Group”, with subsidiaries like “Constructora Teya”, won more than 8 billion pesos in contracts with the State of Mexico, when Peña Nieto was governor, according to documents given to this investigation team through the Mexican Transparency Law.
“Ingeniería Inmobiliaria del Centro”, legal owner of Peña Nieto and Angélica Rivera’s house in Lomas de Chapultepec, has its office in 114 José Vicente Villada Street, third floor, center of Toluca, the capital of the State of Mexico.
That address is the same as “Constructora Teya’s” and the one “Eolo Plus” showed in the bills given to the PRI because of the airplanes rental for the presidential campaign of Peña Nieto. In a phone call to its number, the operator answers as “Higa Group”.
These firms also share a legal representative: Arturo Reyes Gómez, who has that title at “Eolo Plus” and “Ingeniería Inmobiliaria del Centro”. These journalists have been looking for an interview with him, but he declined.
Reyes Gómez was the one who bought, in November 2009, the land where the residence was built in Sierra Gorda 150.
Through the Mexican Transparency Law, this investigation team obtained the construction file from local authorities. All of the procedures were filled by Reyes Gómez from “Ingeniería Inmobiliaria del Centro”.
In December 2010, that firm bought the adjacent field, with the number 160. With that procedure, the property reached 15,220 ft2.
For Sierra Gorda’s construction, Mauricio Clemente Buitrón Monroy was hired as Built Responsible Director. The engineer accepted an interview for this investigation:
“”Is the ‘Casa la Palma’ project in Sierra Gorda… people call it like that today. I learned it was the future home of the federal executive, by a neighbor complaint. I said, ‘Wow’. I did not know. When I told Acosta architect, who was my supervisor at the time, he said, “Who told you that?!” Supposedly, for security reasons, no one should know, but many people knew it… “.
In 2012, Buitrón Monroy said he went to Sierra Gorda 150 to fulfill the completion work verification, but he had no access:
“The day we went to fulfill the completion work verification, we could not access because some people told us that Presidential Guards didn’t have an order of authorization for us, and then we understood that we could not get inside.”
“Ingeniería Inmobiliaria del Centro” remains as the legal owner of Sierra Gorda 150, according to documents from the Ownership Public Record of Mexico City, dated on October 29.
When Enrique Peña Nieto started his presidential campaign, in 2012, he published an assets declaration: four houses and other four properties in the State of Mexico, and an apartment in Acapulco. He did not include the Sierra Gorda 150 house.
During his campaign, Peña Nieto, his closest collaborators and his family flew on “Eolo Plus”, a Higa Group subsidiary. His political party, the PRI, paid nearly 26 million pesos per flight.
On December 1st of 2012, when he was sworn in as President of Mexico, before Congress, Peña Nieto and his family arrived from a residence in 1325 Paseo de las Palmas Street, in Lomas de Chapultepec, which is owned by Angelica Rivera and is behind Sierra Gorda 150 house.
In January 2013, he published his first Assets Declaration as president: he kept the 9 properties he declared when he was candidate. The same number of goods remained in his 2014 Assets Declaration. He has never mentioned the Sierra Gorda home.
In the phone book, “Ingeniería Inmobiliaria del Centro” appears with three numbers and the address is Sierra Gorda 150. When you make a phone call, someone pick-up the phone in Palmas 1325, Angélica Rivera’s house that is behind.
This Investigation team made a phone call asking for the house of Sierra Gorda, but the woman who picked up -who said her name was Ana- confirmed that both residences are connected.
–Where am I calling?
–Are these houses interconnected?
-Well… Yes, we are in this house and the other one is behind us…
–Is there a corridor to go into the other house?
In response to a public information request, President’s Office said Angélica Rivera has no obligation to submit her Assets Declaration, for she is not a public servant.
However, the law commands the president to report the assets of his wife before the Public Service Department.
The Presidential Guards confirmed that they protect the house of Sierra Gorda 150, for they must ensure the security of the president and his family, at the official residence in Los Pinos and at the National Palace, and in their private home, according to the response they sent under the Mexican Transparency Law.
Rivera was asked to tell her version about this investigation, from the organism sheleads, the DIF, but the request was passed to the President’s Office… There is no answer so far.
In answer to another transparency request, President’s Office declared itself incompetent to respond about the ownership of the house, and passed it to the Public Service Department. That department said that Rivera’s and their children’s assets were confidential information.
The last September 24th, in New York, and with President Barack Obama beside him, Enrique Peña Nieto became president of the Open Government Partnership; during the ceremony, he made the commitment to promote transparency, anti-corruption instruments and the citizen empowerment.
Despite this international commitment, the President’s Office declared itself incompetent to answer the questions of this report.
On Thursday November 6th, at night, President Peña Nieto ordered to repeat the Mexico-Queretaro train contest, because of the critics made by congressmen, business leaders and analysts, the lack of transparency in the process and timing.
“Higa Group”, through its subsidiary “Constructora Teya”, is part of the consortium that won the contest. The same business group built a residence in Lomas de Chapultepec according to President Peña Nieto and his wife’s wishes, and it’s where they plan to live at the conclusion of his term, as Angélica Rivera confessed to the ¡Hola! magazine.
On Friday November 7, the Minister of Communications and Transportation, Gerardo Ruiz-Esparza, reported that the bidding is going to be launched once again in late November this year, while the consortium of Chinese-Mexican companies announced that they will compete again…
(By Rafael Cabrera, Daniel Lizárraga, Irving Huerta and Sebastián Barragán)
Translation by Irving Huerta and Itzel García
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