August 9, 2019 / 9:00 PM / 3 months ago

Mexico president says budget hole probe only targets ex-minister so far

MEXICO CITY, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Mexico’s president said on Friday that a former cabinet minister who had been questioned over an alleged $250 million loss to taxpayers under the previous government was the only official being investigated in the case so far.

Rosario Robles, who for more than 2-1/2 years was the social development minister in the last administration, appeared on Thursday before a judge over prosecutors’ claims that over 5 billion pesos ($258 million) destined for welfare programs under her tenure were unaccounted for, local media reported.

“The attorney general has not requested more information from other public servants,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told a news conference.

The Mexican attorney general’s office declined to comment.

The leftist president has vowed to end corruption but said he was not looking to go after his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was tarnished by a string of scandals.

“Revenge isn’t my strength,” Lopez Obrador said. “Justice, not revenge.”

Still, Robles is one of several officials from Pena Nieto’s administration, including a former head of state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, to end up in the new government’s crosshairs.

A 2017 investigation by Mexican news site Animal Politico and nonprofit Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity found more than 50 officials participated in the so-called “Master Fraud” that funneled public funds into various shell companies.

It found that federal auditors had detected irregularities worth millions of dollars in the accounts of ministries run by Robles, who later served as the minister for agrarian, land and urban development in Pena Nieto’s government.

Robles has denied any wrongdoing. After her court appearance on Thursday, she said she was taking stock of the accusations to prepare a defense.

She has not yet been formally charged, and her court hearing is scheduled to continue on Monday, local media reported.

The Public Administration Ministry said in January that three Pemex officials took part in the “Master Fraud,” as the case is now widely known, and their cases would be investigated. ($1 = 19.3977 Mexican pesos) (Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Richard Chang)

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