A group of Mexican construction companies planning to compete for President Enrique Pena Nieto’s largest public works project is weighing whether to drop a builder tied to a scandal involving the First Lady’s house.
The consortium, including a company controlled by billionaire Carlos Slim and Empresas ICA SAB, may cut a unit of Grupo Higa, which built a home for Pena Nieto’s wife, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the talks are private. Higa has brought negative attention to the alliance vying to build a new Mexico City airport that may cost as much as $12.1 billion, according to a second person who also asked not to be named.
The same Higa unit, Constructora Teya, was part of a separate group led by China Railway Construction Corp. whose $4.3 billion high-speed rail contract was scrapped this month by the Pena Nieto administration three days after awarding the deal. The government said the proposal was withdrawn due to general “doubts and concerns,” without elaborating. Another Higa company still holds the deed to the home purchased by First Lady Angelica Rivera in 2012, she said Nov. 18.
The arrangement did not represent a conflict of interest for Pena Nieto, his spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told reporters yesterday. Pena Nieto’s office did not respond to e-mails and telephone calls from Bloomberg News seeking additional comment.
Higa did not respond to telephone messages, nor did Grupo Hermes, another consortium member, or Slim’s Grupo Carso SAB. ICA declined to comment.
Rivera, a former soap opera star, will sell her rights to the house because she doesn’t want it to “continue to be a pretext to offend and defame my family,” she said in a video posted to YouTube Nov. 18.
Rivera said she agreed in early 2012 to buy the house for 54 million pesos ($3.9 million) over eight years with a 9 percent interest rate. She said she has paid 14.3 million pesos so far. Under the terms of the purchase and sale agreement, the property deed would not be listed under her name until she finished paying for the house, she said.
Rivera said she started working in 2009 with Juan Armando Hinojosa, the head of Higa, to expand a property adjacent to her residence since 2008 on Paseo de las Palmas in one of Mexico City’s wealthiest neighborhoods. She received the Palmas property under a contract with her former employer, Grupo Televisa SAB, on Dec. 14, 2010, less than three weeks after she married Pena Nieto.
‘Nothing to Hide’
“I have nothing to hide,” Rivera said in the YouTube video. “I’m here to defend my integrity and that of my children and that of my husband.”
The president used a separate house owned by Hinojosa in 2012, the year he won election and took office, Aristegui Noticias reported Nov. 26. That property was used by Pena Nieto mostly during the transition period after he won the election and before he took office, Finance Minister Luis Videgaray told radio host Carmen Aristegui today.
The person who said the airport bidding consortium was considering removing Higa added that the venture has nine member companies, all from Mexico. Higa’s Teya has an 11 percent stake in the venture, the same as Grupo Carso, while ICA’s stake is about 17 percent, the person said.
Higa was included in the consortium to improve its chances of winning airport contracts and now some of the venture’s members say the company’s presence is detrimental, the person said.
The new airport, announced by Pena Nieto in September, is being designed by London-based architect Norman Foster and Slim’s son-in-law, Fernando Romero. The project’s total cost includes hydraulic work and other related projects around the airport, Communications and Transportation Minister Gerardo Ruiz said Sept. 3.
Ruiz’s ministry said it will start another bidding process for the rail project to give other companies more time to prepare bids. In the first tender process, the China Railway consortium presented the only proposal to build a high-speed rail line between Mexico City and the industrial hub of Queretaro.
–With assistance from Eric Martin and Rafael Gayol in Mexico City.
To contact the reporters on this story: Brendan Case in Mexico City at firstname.lastname@example.org; Carlos Manuel Rodriguez in Mexico City at email@example.com. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at firstname.lastname@example.org.