June 2, 2018 / 3:54 AM / 23 days ago

Prominent Mexican company denies taking sides in presidential vote

MEXICO CITY, June 1 (Reuters) - A company belonging to one of Mexico’s richest men on Friday denied taking sides in the presidential race amid growing evidence of unease among prominent businesses about a possible victory by leftist front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Luxury department store El Palacio de Hierro, a part of billionaire Alberto Bailleres’ business empire, issued a statement in newspapers saying that it was not trying to influence the election, despite recent reports to the contrary.

El Palacio de Hierro said it was part of a movement called CONCIENCIA MX that aimed to help its employees see how to achieve “the model of country we want”.

“At no point does this initiative influence the vote or present proposals in favor of or against any party or candidate,” El Palacio de Hierro said, adding that it “completely denied” undertaking “any proselytizing activity”.

Still, two people at Bailleres’ conglomerate Grupo Bal told Reuters that companies in the group had held meetings to encourage them to inform themselves about the upcoming vote.

That involved a presentation for staff of El Palacio de Hierro setting out Mexico’s advances in recent years and explaining how anger over corruption and lawlessness was stopping people from seeing them, one of the sources said.

Staff were never urged to vote a certain way, nor was Lopez Obrador named directly, but to people with a certain knowledge of Mexico, it was obvious to whom it referred, the source said.

Other companies have also dropped hints about the risk of a Lopez Obrador victory in the Mexican election.

This week, a letter from mining tycoon German Larrea was published in which he warned his staff of the risk of a “populist” winning the July 1 presidential election, making indirect references to Lopez Obrador and his campaign.

A former Mexico City mayor, Lopez Obrador has accused Larrea and Bailleres - who were the second and third richest men in Mexico on the 2018 Forbes rich list - of belonging to a group of tycoons seeking to thwart democracy and keep him from power.

Lopez Obrador has a history of clashing with business leaders, and his adversaries time and again painted him as a threat to Mexico’s economic stability during his previous two runs for the presidency. He finished runner-up both times.

Most polls make him a strong favorite to win this time. (Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and Stefanie Eschenbacher Editing by Robert Birsel)

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