GUATEMALA CITY – The former governor of Mexico’s Veracruz state who is accused of running a corruption ring that allegedly pilfered millions of dollars from state coffers was detained in Guatemala after six months as a fugitive and high-profile symbol of government graft in his country.
Javier Duarte de Ochoa, pale and visibly tired, was brought Sunday to a prison at a military base in the Guatemalan capital
A statement from Mexico’s federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) said Duarte de Ochoa was detained Saturday with the cooperation of Guatemalan police and the country’s Interpol office in Panajachel, a picturesque tourist town on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala’s highlands.
It said he is wanted on suspicion of money laundering and organized crime, and prosecutors directed the Foreign Relations Secretariat (SRE) to request Duarte de Ochoa’s extradition via its Guatemalan counterpart.
Manuel Noriega, deputy director of Interpol in Guatemala, said Duarte de Ochoa was located at a hotel where he was staying with his wife. He was asked to leave his room, did so voluntarily and then was arrested without incident in the lobby.
Noriega said Duarte de Ochoa would be presented before a judge to consider his possible extradition.
At least two dozen policemen guarded Duarte de Ochoa as he arrived at Guatemala City’s Matamoros prison.
“I have no comment, thank you,” he said to a question from a news agency.
Duarte de Ochoa, 43, 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.
At the time he denied having links to phantom businesses that allegedly won state contracts, and said he had not stolen a single peso of state money or diverted government funds overseas.
“I don’t have foreign accounts,” he said last year. “I don’t have properties anywhere.”
Duarte de Ochoa promptly disappeared and had been sought by Mexican authorities ever since. Earlier this year, Interpol issued a notice for his capture.
The Mexican government has found millions of dollars purportedly linked to Duarte de Ochoa, frozen more than 100 bank accounts and also seized property and businesses tied to the former governor. A reward of 15 million pesos ($730,000) had been offered for his capture.
The detention comes a week after Tomás Yarrington Ruvalcaba, the former governor of Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, was arrested in Italy, also on allegations of organized crime and money laundering.
Another ex-governor, César Duarte Jáquez of Chihuahua state, is also wanted on suspicion of corruption and is said to have fled to El Paso, Texas. He is not related to Javier Duarte de Ochoa.
All three ex-governors were members of the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
The party, which expelled Javier Duarte de Ochoa on Oct. 25, 2016, and has sought to distance itself from him, applauded the 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,” the party said in a statement.
Duarte de Ochoa became a powerful symbol of alleged corruption during midterm elections last year in which the PRI lost several governorships, including Veracruz, that it had held uninterrupted since its founding in 1929.
Duarte de Ochoa also has been widely criticized for rampant violence in the state during his administration, as drug cartels warred for territory and thousands of people were killed or disappeared into clandestine graves in cases that mostly remain unsolved. The dead include at least 16 journalists slain in Veracruz during his six years in office.