Latin America

Documents cast doubt on Mexican president's rationale for paying taxes through a friend

The first lady paid her taxes several times through Miami lawyers. So why did she need a friend to pay her taxes?
25 Ago 2016 – 1:21 PM EDT

Even though Mexico's First Lady Angélica Rivera asked businessman Ricardo Pierdant to pay taxes on her Miami apartment as a one-time favor since she was "out of town," she paid those same taxes through lawyers for four years.

According to Miami-Dade tax collector office documents obtained by Univision Investiga, Rivera hired two law firms to pay taxes of her apartment, located on the exclusive island of Key Biscayne, in 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015.

Previously, Univision Investiga revealed that Pierdant, a friend of President Enrique Peña Nieto, used an electronic check to pay taxes on Rivera's apartment and in 2015, Miami-based law firm R&S International Law Group LLP paid the property taxes on Rivera's apartment.

Univision also reported that Pierdant bought an apartment directly above the first lady's home with a $2 million cash payment, despite a $1 million lien for failing to pay his mortgage on another Miami apartment.

The electronic method that Pierdant used to pay the property taxes on Rivera's apartment has been available for at least five years and could have been done from anywhere in the world. The county also accepts payment by mail and in-person at their offices.

The controversy arose after The Guardian newspaper reported that the first lady used the other apartment, located in the same building as Pierdant's home.

In a televised interview, Peña Nieto said Pierdant paid his wife's property taxes as a favor one time when the first lady was not in Miami and needed someone to make the payment on the property, valued at $3 million.

"In a common and ordinary relationship that can happen between those who are friends and neighbors, but that does not in any way imply anything illegal or being at fault," the president said during an August 15 interview with Televisa.

The new documents reveal that Rivera used the law firm Rojas & Standham LLP in 2011 and 2012 to pay her taxes. She used the same company to pay her taxes in 2015, although the firm changed its name.

Rojas & Standham manages the company Unit 304 Oto Inc., through which Rivera bought her apartment, according to public records from the Florida Division of Corporations.

Last week, a member of the firm told Univision Investiga that the company had never paid taxes on Rivera's apartment prior to 2015. But the documents show that the company made payments on at least two other occasions.

"She made a bank deposit for us and we paid with a check from a U.S. bank. We did this once, as a favor," said an employee of the company, who asked not to be identified by name.

When asked for comment, the company said it could not discuss information about its clients.

The new information from the county also shows that Rivera paid property taxes for fiscal year 2014 through the Miami-based firm De la Vega & Morgade CPA. A company employee declined to give information about their dealings with Rivera, noting that the firm can't reveal details about its clients.

Last month, when Univision Investiga asked Pierdant why it appeared he'd paid taxes on Rivera's apartment, he strongly denied it. Then, after receiving an email with a copy of the receipt listing the name of his company, he said he would check with his accountant. Since then, he has not returned Univision's calls or messages.

Pierdant, 49, told Univision Investiga that he's been friends with Peña Nieto since he was 18 when they were both studying at Universidad Panamericana in Mexico City.

Both Peña Nieto and Pierdant denied any conflict of interest or that their friendship has been beneficial to Pierdant's business dealings. In an interview with Univision Investiga Pierdant acknowledged that he owns a promotional goods company and has sold material to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), to which Peña Nieto belongs.

Pierdant is also the owner of the Pierdant Group, a Mexican industrial goods firm, as well as DecoBike, a bike-sharing concession in Miami Beach and San Diego.

RELACIONADOS:Latin AmericaUnited StatesNews in English