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Ex-Pemex CEO to face questioning in Odebrecht scandal

[MEXICO CITY] Mexican prosecutors on Tuesday ordered the former chief executive of state oil company Pemex to answer questions about allegations he took US$10 million in bribes from scandal-stained Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht.

Emilio Lozoya, who headed Pemex from 2012 to 2016 and is close to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, is the latest big name in Latin American politics and business to be caught up in the swirling scandal around Odebrecht.

He "will appear before prosecutors on Thursday, responding to a summons from the attorney general's office," a prosecution source told AFP, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised to give details on the investigation.

Odebrecht, the largest construction firm in Latin America, has admitted to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to win juicy contracts in 12 countries, including Mexico.

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In hopes of getting lighter sentences, its executives have been dishing dirt to Brazilian prosecutors about who received the payments - and Lozoya is the latest heavy hitter to be named, according to investigation documents leaked to Brazilian newspaper Globo.

The businessman denied the allegation via Twitter on Monday, calling it "an absolutely false, malicious and non-existent story" and threatening to sue for defamation.

Lozoya allegedly took a series of bribes totaling US$10 million starting in March 2012, when he was head of the international affairs office for then-candidate Pena Nieto's presidential campaign.

That has raised questions in Mexico about whether any of the money went to Pena Nieto's campaign - something the president's office denied.

"It is absurd, irresponsible and in bad faith to link President Enrique Pena Nieto's campaign in 2012 to the Odebrecht investigations," it said in a statement, underlining the fact that the campaign's accounts were audited by electoral authorities.

Odebrecht and its affiliate Braskem agreed last year to pay a record US$3.5 billion settlement to Brazilian, US and Swiss authorities over revelations it paid massive bribes to win public works contracts in Latin America and Africa.

The scandal erupted during the investigation of a huge pay-to-play scheme at Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras.

The fallout has shaken Latin America, where ex-presidents and top officials have been jailed in countries including Brazil, Peru and Colombia.

In Mexico, Odebrecht won a US$100-million tender for an oil refinery just after Pena Nieto took office. Mexico canceled the contract last year over "irregularities."

AFP