The former governor of Chihuahua, César Duarte, was arrested on corruption charges in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, Mexican and U.S. authorities said.
The federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) said that Duarte, governor of the northern border state between 2010 and 2016, was taken into custody by officers with the United States Marshals Service who were acting on an arrest warrant for extradition purposes issued by a court in New Mexico.
Manny Puri, assistant chief for the U.S. Marshals Service in South Florida, said the ex-governor was detained by the law enforcement agency’s fugitive task force “without any incidents.”
The federal government renewed its request for Duarte’s extradition to Mexico in January.
The former Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governor is wanted in Chihuahua on charges of criminal association and embezzlement to the tune of 6 billion pesos (US $264.2 million at today’s exchange rate). Some of the money was allegedly funneled to the PRI to fund election campaigns in 2015.
Duarte is also wanted on federal charges that he embezzled 14 million pesos from state government employees’ salaries and handed it over to the PRI.
New Mexico court documents said the accusations against Duarte included putting the state of Chihuahua into debt of more than 48 billion pesos and diverting at least US $6.5 million to two companies of which he had served as chairman.
The ex-governor had been on the run since 2017, and Interpol had issued red notices for his arrest.
Duarte will face a hearing at a federal court in Florida within 72 hours of his arrest at which the crimes of which he is accused will be set out. At the same hearing, a judge will likely inform Duarte of his bail rights or lack thereof.
Experts who spoke with the newspaper El Universal predicted that the 57-year-old former governor will be denied bail due to the high probability that he will abscond.
The arrest of Duarte and his probable extradition to Mexico is likely to make some other PRI politicians, both former and current, nervous because the ex-governor could choose to cooperate with authorities in exchange for a reduction in his sentence.
Duarte, the newspaper Milenio reported, could inform on other PRI members who participated in or had knowledge of the embezzlement schemes in which he was allegedly involved.
Duarte has previously denied any wrongdoing but if he were to name names, Luis Videgaray, a former federal finance and foreign affairs minister, former tax service chief Aristóteles Núñez and even ex-president Enrique Peña Nieto could come up, Milenio said.
Peña Nieto, who former Pemex chief Emilio Lozoya could implicate in his own corruption charges, has been accused by some people of protecting Duarte from prosecution while he was president of Mexico.
The FGR noted that the arrest warrant under which Duarte was detained was requested by the current administration and accused Peña Nieto’s government of failing to pursue the ex-governor.
Duarte’s arrest coincided with President López Obrador’s trip to Washington D.C., where he met with his counterpart, Donald Trump, at the White House.
López Obrador was informed of the arrest before it was publicly announced, El Universal said, but he made no mention of it in the public remarks he made while at the U.S. president’s official residence.