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PAN candidate hits out in wire-tapping row

April 3, 2012

Erupting with allegations of political espionage, Mexico’s presidential election turned dirty this week, before the official campaign season had even begun.

In a case that echoes both Watergate and the ongoing News International phone-hacking scandal, National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota accused frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) of tapping her phone line.

Vazquez Mota initially alleged that members of the government had wiretapped her in a private phone conversation during the PAN presidential primaries. That conversation was posted online by a Mexican news outlet on Monday, leading Vazquez Mota to accuse the PRI of also listening in and leaking the recording to embarrass her.

“Send a warm greeting to Genaro Garcia Luna, who records us instead of recording El Chapo, and a very loving greeting to Alejandra Sota, who filters all our phone calls. Pinche Sota,” Vazquez Mota told campaign coordinator Agustin Torres Ibarrola in the recording on the La Silla Rota political website.

Both Secretary of Public Security Garcia Luna and Sota, a presidential spokesperson, are members of President Felipe Calderon’s cabinet. Although Calderon and Vazquez Mota are both members of the PAN, they are not close political allies and the president favored his treasury secretary Ernesto Cordero as the party candidate to succeed him.

The conversation apparently took place prior to the PAN primary in January, in which Vazquez Mota defeated Cordero. With her reference to “El Chapo,” Vazquez Mota implied the government should be focusing on catching Mexico’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, instead of wiretapping members of its own party.

It is unclear how La Silla Rota obtained the recording of the conversation. Editor Felipe Gonzalez claimed he did not know the source of the audio.

Once it was made public, Vazquez Mota was quick to blame her presidential rival Peña Nieto in a bid to divert attention from internal divisions.

“Whose interest is it in? And who benefits from this kind of spying and leaks? It is the Institutional Revolutionary Party, and its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, which has routinely carried out such practices,” she alleged in a press release on Monday, after filing a formal complaint with the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) for violation of private communications.

“Ultimately we are in the same party and party unity is the most relevant and important to us,” Vazquez Mota added later, in an attempt to restore harmony within the PAN.

Interior Minister Alejandro Poire denied that the federal government spies on anyone. In a thinly veiled reference to the PRI’s history of engaging in such practices, he said the days of government committing political espionage were in the past.

Javier Lozano Alarcon, spokesman for the National Executive Committee (CEN) of the PAN, also accused the PRI of wiretapping – “a sport it has practiced for many years,” he said.

Lozano’s PRI counterpart Eduardo Sanchez denied any accusations that his party was responsible, affirming that they “totally reject such practices.”

Turning the focus back on the government, he added, “it is regrettable that they are using state institutions and mechanisms of criminal investigation to conduct political espionage. This is unacceptable. A democratic government cannot allow it.”

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