Mexican president slams audit flagging cost of airport cancellation

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday attacked an official report saying the cost of his 2018 cancellation of a new Mexico City airport started by the previous administration was much higher than his government had asserted.

Mexico's Federal Audit Office (ASF) said it estimated that canceling the partly-built airport on the city's eastern flank cost nearly 332 billion pesos ($16 billion), or 232 billion pesos more than the transport ministry stated in April 2019.

"I would like them to explain that figure," Lopez Obrador told a news conference.

"It's wrong, it's an exaggeration," he added, and suggested the ASF was helping his adversaries.

Following a widely criticized referendum he had called for, Lopez Obrador in late October 2018 announced the termination of the project, his predecessor's flagship infrastructure scheme, which was initially slated to cost $13 billion.

Lopez Obrador was elected president in July 2018, and he made the cancellation call on the basis of the referendum nearly five weeks before he took office in December that year.

He argued the airport project was riddled with corruption and geologically unsound. Barely 1 percent of the population took part in the vote, which the president's party oversaw.

The ambitious project's cancellation rattled financial markets, and though the government spent billions of dollars paying off investors, Lopez Obrador has always maintained that his decision had saved the public coffers billions.

Afterwards, he ordered the construction of a cheaper alternative airport north of the city, overseen by the army.

The ASF report also highlighted other public sector waste during 2019 on Lopez Obrador's watch, which he also questioned.

"Their figures are wrong," he said. "I have other data."

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Raul Cortes; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)