A United States federal judge has ruled that former Chihuahua governor César Duarte can be extradited to Mexico to face charges of conspiracy and embezzlement of government funds.
Lauren Louis, a United States District Court judge in the Southern District of Florida, wrote in a ruling published Monday that Mexico’s extradition request satisfies the requirements of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and its southern neighbor.
“There is probable cause to believe that Duarte committed the crimes charged in the extradition complaint. I therefore certify that Duarte is extraditable as to those crimes and order Duarte detained pending both a review of Mexico’s extradition request by the Secretary of State and Duarte’s potential surrender to Mexico,” she wrote.
The former Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) governor, who held office in the northern border state between 2010 and 2016, fled Mexico shortly after his term ended and was arrested in July 2020 in Miami, Florida, while working at a junkyard. He has 60 days to appeal the judge’s ruling.
According to Mexico’s 13-page extradition request, Duarte is accused of embezzling at least US $6.5 million in public resources and transferring the money to two companies with which he was associated: Unión Ganadera Regional General División del Norte de Chihuahua and Financiera de la División del Norte
He is also accused of diverting 250 million pesos (US $12.3 million at today’s exchange rate) of public money to PRI political campaigns. In addition, he faces charges of deliberately putting the state of Chihuahua in debt to the tune of 48 billion pesos (US $2.4 billion).
All told he faces at least 20 corruption-related charges, according to a report by the newspaper El País, and 11 warrants were issued for his arrest in Mexico before his capture in the United States.
The U.S. District Court ruling said that Duarte challenges the evidence that he diverted government funds.
“Duarte was not the secretary of the treasury, he argues, and was thus incapable of directing the state’s funds and on the other side of the transaction, it was Unión Ganadera and Financiera, not Duarte, alleged to have received the funds, and he contests the government’s ability to impute the acts of these companies upon him. Thus, he argues, the evidence fails to establish that he deviated the funds,” it said.
However, “multiple witnesses have offered testimony that Duarte authorized or instructed the release of the contested funds,” Louis’ ruling said.
Defense lawyers for Duarte claim that their client is a victim of political persecution led by his successor Javier Corral, who completed his five-year term in September.
They claim that Corral, who held office for the National Action Party (PAN) and was a strong advocate for Duarte’s extradition, pressured witnesses to testify against his predecessor.
The ex-PAN governor said on Twitter late Monday that the judge’s decision to give a green light to Duarte’s extradition is another step forward in a “long fight against corruption and impunity.”
With reports from El País