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Originally published Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 7:23 PM

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Audit: Mexico failed with wafer-like monument

Construction of a monument that Mexico City residents say resembles a giant cream-filled wafer was soured by overspending, inflated prices and building code violations, an audit has found.

Associated Press

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MEXICO CITY —

Construction of a monument that Mexico City residents say resembles a giant cream-filled wafer was soured by overspending, inflated prices and building code violations, an audit has found.

Formally known as the Pillar of Light, the 104-meter (343-foot) high structure on the capital's emblematic Reforma Avenue was supposed to cost around $35 million, instead tax payers shelled out $100 million, according to the report released Wednesday by the audit unit of Congress.

The audit found that Mexico's anti-corruption agency failed to oversee spending and ignored costly errors during its construction.

Previous comments by federal officials and contractors had revealed that the monument's construction was plagued with wrongdoings and overspending. But the audit also found that the Public Administration Department, the anti-corruption watchdog, ignored violations of construction codes and full compliance with spending regulations.

The monument, which is made of a series of columns sandwiched by panels of quartz backlit by LED lights, was built to commemorate the bicentennial of Mexican independence. It was meant as a gleaming symbol of hope and inspiration in a country beset by drug violence.

But its construction became a topic of debate in Mexico and it is now commonly known as "suavicrema," a cream-filled cookie with a gridded surface. The tower has also earned nicknames like "the Monument of Shame" and "the Monument of Mexican Dependence."

It was scheduled to be inaugurated on Sept. 15, 2010, but was finished a year-and-a-half late and was not well-received by many Mexicans who saw little of Mexico in it.

The construction company brought stainless-steel columns from Italy, quartz panels from Brazil and a specialized lighting system made by a German-owned company.

The audit concluded that the construction company inflated steel prices and overspent on the quartz and it lied on the actual weight of the tower to justify more expenses.

"They made decisions without the proper coordination and full compliance with regulations," the report said.

The audit also found the committee that oversaw the work signed a contract for an incomplete project that contained errors, including having to dig deeper than it had been established in the beginning.

The management company Triple I Services could not be reached by The Associated Press Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Public Administration Department said it would not comment on the report because it referred to faults by the previous administration of President Felipe Calderon, who left office on Dec. 1.

"Those audits belong to the past six-year term. Right now, the department has nothing to say about it," said spokesman Emilio Estrada.

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Adriana Gomez Licon is on Twitter http://twitter.com/agomezlicon

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