'Nothing to hide, nothing to fear,' Mexican president says of tax evasion crackdown

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador attends a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's president said on Thursday that spy tactics could be used to fight tax evasion, after such violations were classified as serious crimes on the order of corruption and homicide, and he brushed off critiques of overreach.

"Nothing to hide, nothing to fear," Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador told his regular news conference.

"This is for anything related to serious crimes... it's a legal means that's in the constitution for fighting corruption, for fighting fuel theft, for femicides," he said.

Rooting out corruption is a top priority for the veteran leftist, who took office in December.

Earlier this week, the lower chamber in Congress, controlled by Lopez Obrador's MORENA party, voted to pass a bill that would classify tax evasion of at least 7.8 million pesos ($406,513) as a serious crime. The bill now heads to Lopez Obrador to be signed into law.

Individuals who use fake invoices and receipts could serve up to nine years of prison. Offenders who are government officials could lose their right to public office for up to 10 years.

Lawmakers supporting the measure said that the production of fake invoices and receipts in Mexico was an industry worth up to $15.6 billion a year.

Mexico's CCE business lobby criticized the crackdown, saying it was vague and could deter investment.

"People and companies need certainty and clear rules that don't leave room for abuses of the authority's interpretation," the group said in a statement on Tuesday.

Mexico's overall tax take is the lowest out of 36 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

To boost collection, Lopez Obrador said he will eliminate tax forgiveness for the country's largest companies and end tax write-offs. He also plans to enforce a sales tax on foreign online businesses.


($1 = 19.2016 Mexican pesos)


(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Additional reporting by Sharay Angulo and Miguel Angel Gutierrez; Editing by Daniel Wallis)