Mexico’s ex-president Enrique Peña Nieto has settled in Spain. The former head of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed Mexico between 2012 and 2018, applied for a two-year residency and work authorization that was granted in October 2020, according to sources familiar with the case. The permit that Peña Nieto has is known as a so-called golden visa, a procedure that awards legal papers to foreigners who spend at least €1 million on acquiring Spanish assets, who have a business project or who buy at least €500,000 worth of real estate (10.5 million Mexican pesos). It is the formula that dozens of Russian, Chinese and Venezuelan entrepreneurs have used over the years to settle down in Spain.
In 2020, Peña Nieto purchased business premises with a surface area of 105 square meters and an indoor patio in a building in the posh Madrid neighborhood of Chamberí, according to the local property registry. The real estate website idealista.com estimates that this property is worth more than €500,000.
The property deed was signed on September 18, 2020, and shows that there was no mortgage involved. The unit has undergone a recent reform and is now a “luxury apartment,” according to one of the building residents. The property remains empty, said this source, although people have occasionally gathered to dine in the patio and the diners had a Mexican accent. The former president of Mexico has even participated in at least one homeowners’ meeting, according to the owner of an apartment who has declined to provide more details about it.
Peña Nieto, however, does not reside in the Spanish capital but instead some 40 kilometers to the north, in the municipality of San Agustín de Guadalix, in an exclusive development called Valdelagua where his neighbors include actors Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem as well as celebrities who feature regularly in gossip magazines, as stated by two residents and confirmed by a third source.
Peña Nieto’s regular residence, according to the property registry, is a stand-alone house built on a 2,500-square-meter plot of land with two floors and a basement that holds the garage and a wine cellar. The rest of the property is taken up by a garden. A cypress hedge protects the privacy of the former Mexican leader, who has hung a huge Spanish flag at the entrance. Nobody is allowed into this tree-lined estate dotted with yellow Ferraris and the latest luxury cars without an invitation from one of its residents. That is part of what makes it so exclusive, along with the private security that makes continuous rounds through the silent alleys that connect nearly 300 luxury homes.
This property does not belong to Peña Nieto, but to a construction company that acquired it through a €889,500 mortgage, according to the registry. The owner of this construction company is an entrepreneur who also ventured into computer consulting and went global in markets such as Chile and Mexico. Reiterated attempts to reach him for comment went unanswered.
Peña Nieto’s residence and work authorization expires in October of this year. After that two-year period of legal stay in Spain, the former Mexican president could apply for Spanish nationality or simply renew his current permit. In the latter case, he would obtain a residence permit for another five years. EL PAÍS has contacted the law firm that managed his application, and which specializes in international mobility, immigration law and acquisition of Spanish nationality, but the reply by one of the partners was: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Two former aides to the former president declined to comment. The former spokesman for his administration claimed that he does not know how to reach him, while his former chief of staff has not responded to this newspaper’s request for comment. EL PAÍS has not been able to confirm whether Peña Nieto has other financial assets in Spain in addition to the Chamberí property.
Peña Nieto, who governed Mexico between 2012 and 2018, headed an administration that sought to embody the renewal of the PRI, the party that had governed Mexico uninterruptedly for 70 years in the 20th century. But he left behind a trail of scandals: from the official version of the Ayotzinapa case, involving irregularities in the investigation of the disappearance of 43 students, to the purchase of a mansion in an exclusive neighborhood in Mexico City – formally owned by his then-wife, the actress Angélica Rivera –, built by a company that contracted with his executive.
His administration, however, was marred above all by the corruption scandal involving Brazilian construction company Odebrecht. One of Peña’s trusted aides. Emilio Lozoya, former director of the state oil company Pemex, was arrested in early 2020 in a luxury development on the outskirts of Málaga, in southern Spain, extradited to Mexico and jailed for money laundering, criminal association and bribery. Lozoya’s initial strategy to get out of prison or obtain a sentence reduction consisted of providing evidence that would incriminate the leadership of the previous government, including the former president himself. To this date, the Prosecutor’s Office has rejected a deal.
By leaving his country, Peña Nieto has followed in the footsteps of other PRI presidents who came before him over the past 30 years: Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) settled in Ireland shortly after completing his term and Ernesto Zedillo ( 1994-2000) left to teach at Yale University in Connecticut. Information about Peña Nieto’s decision to leave Mexico began to circulate in early 2019, months after handing over the baton to his successor and political rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. However, the former president has never publicly acknowledged it and even denied it on Twitter in February of that year. “It is absolutely false that I have bought or rented a property in Madrid.” In that message, he asserted that he lived in Mexico with his family and that he was not planning to move “to Spain or to any other country.” He was not lying then, because he had not yet applied for residency in Spain. He did so a few months later.
Ante las versiones que circulan sobre mi país de residencia, aclaro: es absolutamente falso que yo haya comprado o rentado una propiedad en Madrid. Mi familia y yo vivimos en México. No tengo contemplado mudarme a España ni a ningún otro país.— Enrique Peña Nieto (@EPN) February 18, 2019
In 2020, the issue made headlines again following the publication of a story by the magazine Proceso, which provided some clues about Peña Nieto’s new life in Madrid. The publication mentioned the Valdelagua estate, but did not explain under what circumstances the president had managed to settle in Spain on a regular basis. The magazine also pointed out some habits of Peña Nieto, such as his love of golf in the most select clubs in the capital, something that EL PAÍS has also confirmed.