Mexico's Mr. Clean is Smudged

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MEXICO CITY: Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who came to power vowing to fight corruption, now finds himself in the position of explaining away charges of impropriety lodged by a member of his political opposition. The charge is small potatoes in the world of Mexican politics, but nonetheless made the front page of Friday's New York Times and amounts to the first smudge on Zedillo's squeaky-clean reputation. Congressman Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, an independent who was formerly a member of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, says Zedillo permitted a questionable $7 million payment to corn-flour giant Maseca, a company controlled by political supporters. Zedillo, then the senior budget official under President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, allegedly indicated to the commerce ministry that he would find a way to finance the payment if it were approved, despite warnings from lower-ranking officials that such a payment would be unjustified and possibly illegal. In short, the payment was not authorized by Zedillo directly, but his cooperaton was necessary. At any rate, Zedillo does not appear to have benefited personally. Zinser, a member of the Congressional commission investigating corruption in the administration of President Salinas, filed his findings Thursday night with the Mexican Congress. The government Friday disputed Zinser's account as one-sided and misleading, and threatened to take legal action against the Times reporter, Anthony DePalma. TIME Mexico City bureau chief Laura Lopez reports that Zinser's documentation has been public for some time, and that the congressman may be on shaky ground. "Obviously he is taking this to the New York Times because the investigating commission wasn't behind him." Regardless of possible wrongdoing on the President's part, she adds, Zedillo has so far allowed all investigations into official corruption to proceed unhindered, a significant change from the past. -->