Crime & Justice

Mexico high court OKs referendum on prosecuting ex-presidents for graft

Mexico City, Oct 1 (efe-epa).- The Mexican Supreme Court upheld Thursday the constitutionality of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s proposal for a non-binding referendum on investigating his five living predecessors for corruption and filing charges if warranted.

Meeting virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, the judges voted 6-5 to allow a plebiscite on an idea raised by Lopez Obrador during his inaugural address in December 2018.

The dissenting judges agreed, however, to join their colleagues in reviewing the language of the ballot question to ensure that it does not violate the rights of the former presidents.

While he has enumerated what he regards as the crimes of the five surviving ex-presidents, the leftist incumbent says that he will vote “no” if the referendum takes place.

“Past errors can be punished, but what is key is to avoid the crimes of the future. I have said, and I reiterate, that I would vote not to submit them to a trial. Nevertheless, if the consultation is held, I will respect the popular decision, whatever it may be,” Lopez Obrador said a month ago in his state of the union address.

Against all expectations, the Supreme Court gave its approval for the referendum, rejecting the arguments put forward by Judge Luis Maria Aguilar.

“It is not possible to hold a popular consultation that makes the application of human rights contingent on what a group of the population decides,” he said in opposition to the plebiscite.

To name the former presidents as potential defendants undermines the presumption of innocence, Aguilar said.

Voting to uphold the proposed ballot as constitutional, the chief judge, Arturo Zaldivar, said the Supreme Court had “a historic opportunity to give a truly democratic sense to the mechanism of popular consultation.”

Because the referendum will be non-binding, there is no risk of leaving justice “at the mercy of public opinion,” Zaldivar said.

At a press conference earlier Thursday, Lopez Obrador urged the Supreme Court not to deny “the people their right to participation.”

“Whose human rights, (legal) guarantees are violated,” the president asked rhetorically. “If processes in accord with the law take place, there is no violation of human rights.”

The court ruling came a little more than two weeks after Lopez Obrador sent the referendum bill to Congress.

He said that he decided to act because a signature-gathering drive was running out of time to obtain the 1.6 million needed to trigger a plebiscite.

“Between Dec. 1, 1988, and Nov. 30, 2018, Mexico experienced a process characterized by excessive concentration of wealth, monumental devastation to the treasury, privatization of public goods, general corruption, tainted electoral processes,” the legislation sent to lawmakers said.

Lopez Obrador proposed that the non-binding referendum be on the ballot for the June 6, 2021, midterm congressional elections and pose the following question:

“Do you agree that the competent authorities, adhering to applicable laws and procedures, should investigate and if necessary prosecute alleged crimes committed by ex-Presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, Vicente Fox Quesada, Felipe Calderon Hinojosa and Enrique Peña Nieto before, during and after their respective administrations?” EFE er/dr

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