Mexico seeks extradition of fugitive former governor

Javier Duarte
Javier Duarte

Javier Duarte

Mexico has asked Guatemala to extradite a fugitive former governor suspected of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars, officials said.

Javier Duarte of Veracruz state was arrested at a luxury hotel in the tourist resort town of Panajachel on Saturday, Guatemalan police said. Mexico filed its extradition request later.

“Now there is a 60-day period in which bilateral extradition issues are looked at. Then the judge will determine if the necessary conditions are met and that he should be extradited,” Mexico’s top prosecutor Omar Garcia said at a briefing at Mexico’s embassy in Guatemala City.

Duarte had been staying at the four-star hotel for at least two days, where he paid with cash, used a false name and was accompanied by his wife, deputy director of Guatemala’s police Stu Velasco told Milenio television.

The agents handcuffed the ex-governor, who at the time of his capture was wearing a blue shirt, a dark vest and glasses. He had gained weight since fleeing six months ago.

Duarte, 43, was handed over to a counternarcotics court.

Mexican authorities issued an arrest warrant against Duarte in October for his alleged responsibility in organized crime and embezzlement. Interpol also issued an international arrest warrant against him.

Duarte, of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), resigned last year before the end of his term and then went into hiding.

Duarte is not the only Mexican ex-governor to face justice. Tomas Yarrington, governor of the northern state of Tamaulipas between 1999 and 2005, was arrested a week ago in Italy for ties to drug trafficking.

In the past, Duarte has denied the allegations against him, saying he had not stolen a single peso of state money or diverted government funds overseas.

“I do not have foreign accounts,” he said last year. “I do not have properties anywhere.”

Authorities believe he entered Guatemala by land in November or earlier, and traveled between the city of Antigua and other provinces where he had properties.

“During the investigation, it came to light that various private airlines offering services to the region were charged with transporting (Duarte) to different points in Guatemala,” said the prosecutor.

Authorities in Mexico vowed to recover the money Duarte allegedly stole and bring to justice his accomplices.

“The network of accomplices and strawmen” who helped Duarte must be brought to justice, said Alberto Elias Beltran, deputy legal prosecutor for international affairs at Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office.

Political analyst Alejandro Hope said it is difficult to judge whether Duarte’s capture — the second in a week of a high-profile, fugitive former PRI governor — will boost President Enrique Pena Nieto’s image in fighting corruption.

“In the best case it will give him a small boost in the short term but it also draws attention to the corruption of the governors,” said Hope. And Duarte “knows a lot of things about a lot of people.”

Duarte was governor of Veracruz from 2010 until he left office Oct. 12, 2016, two months before the scheduled end of his term, saying he was doing so in order to face the allegations against him.

But he promptly disappeared and had been sought by Mexican authorities ever since.

Mexico says it has found millions of dollars purportedly linked to Duarte, frozen more than 100 bank accounts and seized property and businesses tied to the former governor. A reward of 15 million pesos ($730,000) had been offered for his capture.

Duarte has also been criticized for rampant violence in the state during his administration, as drug cartels warred for territory and thousands of people were killed or disappeared. The dead include at least 16 journalists slain in Veracruz during his six years in office.

Pena Nieto’s PRI party, which expelled Duarte on Oct. 25, 2016, applauded his arrest.

“The PRI calls for all the relevant investigations to be carried out and, respecting due process, for the ex-governor of Veracruz to be punished in an exemplary fashion, as well as anyone who is confirmed to have taken part in his criminal ring,” it said in a statement.


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