October 8, 2018 / 9:06 PM / 7 months ago

Mexico president-elect eyes Slim, others to complete airport

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador floated the possibility on Monday of having business leaders, including billionaire Carlos Slim, complete a new Mexico City airport if it gets taxpayers off the hook.

FILE PHOTO: Employees work on the terminal area at the construction site of the new Mexico City International Airport in Texcoco on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

Early in his election campaign, Lopez Obrador, who takes office on Dec. 1, opposed the $13 billion airport, arguing that it had been tainted by corruption and was being built in a geologically complex area that would require costly maintenance.

But the 64-year-old leftist later softened his stance. Lopez Obrador has said he will consult the public on whether to finish the airport, which has been under construction on the drained bed of Lake Texcoco on the eastern flank of Mexico City since 2015.

As a cheaper alternative, he has proposed keeping the current hub, which is more central, and converting a military airfield north of the capital into a commercial airport.

In a video address posted online, Lopez Obrador said the team responsible for building the new airport was seeking billions of dollars in public money to complete the project. His government could not accept that public expenditure, he said.

But he added “he had information” that Slim, Mexico’s richest person, and other unnamed businessmen were proposing completing the new airport at Texcoco for less money, and without drawing on funds from the government budget.

“That being the case, we could consider the possibility of continuing with construction in Texcoco and not canceling the project,” Lopez Obrador said.

A spokesman for Slim declined to comment on the remarks by Lopez Obrador, who said in May he could consider having private interests complete construction of the airport.

Slim has a significant interest in seeing the airport completed. His family is co-building and co-financing the hub, and his son-in-law designed the terminal for the airport with British architect Norman Foster.

The current Mexican government has said the airport is about one-third finished, while Lopez Obrador’s team has contended it is only 20 percent complete. His officials have conceded, however, that scrapping the Texcoco project would cost billions of dollars.

Opinion polls suggest Mexicans would prefer to complete the new airport rather than pursue Lopez Obrador’s alternative plan.

A survey of 1,000 voters carried out between Sept. 29 and Oct. 1 by polling firm Consulta Mitofsky found 39.3 percent favored finishing the Texcoco airport, with 16.5 percent backing the military airfield conversion. The rest gave no preference.

Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Peter Cooney

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