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By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY, March 26 (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday Carlos Slim had told him the billionaire planned to retire during his administration, in a step at odds with the tycoon’s usually discreet approach to public life.
Slim, who for a time was listed by Forbes as the world’s richest man, did not confirm the president’s unexpected announcement, but said through a spokesman that hard work lay ahead for the two of them over the next six years.
Long a dominant figure in the Mexican economy, the 79-year-old Slim typically keeps a low profile, doing only occasional interviews and giving away little about his plans.
Slim was the first question of the day during Lopez Obrador’s regular morning news conference, as a reporter asked if he had met the tycoon and what he thought about his plans.
“He wants to end his business life helping economic growth and public welfare during this government,” Lopez Obrador said, without specifying when he met Slim. “That’s what he offered me. He wants to retire and he wants to do it in this government.”
Arturo Elias, a spokesman and son-in-law of the 79-year-old Slim, posted a brief statement on Twitter after being asked whether the president’s remarks were accurate.
“Slim remarked to the president that the two have almost six years of intense work (ahead) for the country, the president due to his electoral mandate, and (Slim) due to his age,” Elias said.
Vowing to tackle chronic poverty and inequality in Mexico, Lopez Obrador has put government welfare spending at the heart of his plans to redistribute wealth.
While some economists have questioned how effective handouts will be, business leaders have publicly backed the promotion of “bienestar” or “welfare” as an instrument of policy, and pledged to support the president economically.
Day-to-day management of Slim’s business empire, which ranges from telecommunications and construction to retail and banking, is in the hands of his sons and sons-in-law, though he is widely believed to hold a powerful influence over decisions.
The Slim family’s wealth is currently estimated by Forbes at $64 billion. The billionaire has previously suggested he would never retire, saying he would work until he is “put in a coffin” or until “my body gives in.”
Slim’s companies include telecoms giant America Movil and bank Grupo Financiero Inbursa.
Shares in America Movil were up 0.22 percent in afternoon trading, slightly ahead of the main S&P/BMV IPC stock index, which was up 0.15 percent. Inbursa shares were up 0.43 percent.
Slim has made few public statements since Lopez Obrador took office in December, beyond offering some perfunctory words of support for the new government.
Relations between the administration and Slim got off to an inauspicious start. Before he was even in office, Lopez Obrador said he was canceling a partly built $13 billion new Mexico City airport, in which Slim and his family had major interests.
Lopez Obrador, who worked with Slim to redevelop parts of Mexico City when he was mayor of the capital between 2000 and 2005, argued that the airport was tainted by corruption and being built in an area that was geologically unsuitable.
The cancellation angered business leaders and the government spent its first few weeks compensating investors in the project.
Lopez Obrador has used his presidency to rail constantly at the “neo-liberal” economic policies of the last six governments which he blames for fomenting corruption and violence in Mexico.
Those 3 1/2 decades cover most of the period during which Slim vaulted from a position of relative obscurity to becoming Mexico’s pre-eminent business magnate with the acquisition of former state telephone monopoly Telmex in 1990-91.
The president said he planned to meet Slim soon to discuss plans for investment in Mexico. He did not go into detail.
By law, Mexican presidents can serve only a single six-year term. Lopez Obrador’s term is due to end in 2024. (Reporting by Dave Graham; editing by Dan Grebler and Bernadette Baum)