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To Quell Controversy, Mexico's First Lady Will Sell Mansion

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Mexico's president is having a rough week. Protests continue across the country over the kidnapping and presumed mass murder of 43 students and now the president's wife has been caught up in a corruption scandal. It involves a mansion built and financed for her by a well-connected government contractor. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Mexico's first couple is on the defensive. In a fiery speech earlier this week, President Pena Nieto took on the protesters. He accused them of fomenting social unrest in attempts to destabilize his government's ambitious reform agenda. His wife then went head-to-head with critics of her deal to purchase the all-white multimillion-dollar marble-floored mansion, complete with a spa and pink, purple and orange mood lighting.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

ANGELICA RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: In a seven-minute video posted on her official website, Angelica Rivera said she has nothing to hide. She entered into a contract with a head of Grupo Higa, a construction company, on her own with her own money earned over a 25-year-long acting career.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: The former soap opera star says thanks to her hard work she is an independent woman, able to provide for her family and that she isn't required by law to disclose her personal financial dealings. She said she's going public and will sell her interest in the mansion so it can no longer be used as a pretext to hurt her or her family's honor. A spokesman for the president says neither the first lady nor the president are involved in government contracts. Grupo Higa was part of the winning bid led by a consortium of Chinese businesses to build a high-speed train, however the contract was canceled just before news of the terms of the first lady's mansion became public. Jorge Castaneda, Mexico's former foreign minister, says this is the worst crisis facing Pena Nieto's administration.

JORGE CASTANEDA: The way he had thought out his six-year term has all of a sudden really gotten very much into jeopardy, not that it's going to end or that he's going to resign or any of that, but a lot of the things he thought were going to happen are not happening.

KAHN: Castaneda says Pena Nieto, once the darling of international business circles for his opening of the state oil monopoly and the telecommunications industry, will have to start over and ensure investors that Mexico can have a transparent and fair business climate. Domestically, he'll have to tackle the difficult feat of establishing the rule of law and restoring the public's confidence.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.