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World

After 6-Month Manhunt, Ex-Mexican Governor Nabbed In Guatemala

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So it's getting to a point in Mexico where if someone serves as governor, you almost wonder if the person is going to end up in prison. Nearly a dozen former Mexican governors are behind bars or facing charges. NPR's Carrie Kahn reports on the latest a former governor accused of stealing millions in government funds and ignoring organized crime.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Javier Duarte was on the fifth floor of a luxury high-rise in a Guatemalan tourist town when his Internet connection went out Saturday. On his way to the lobby to complain, the former governor of Veracruz state was nabbed by Guatemalan and Interpol police, ending a six-month-long manhunt for Mexico's most wanted fugitive. Yesterday, with a bulletproof vest around his stout frame, the once rising star of Mexico's ruling PRI political party stood handcuffed before a Guatemalan judge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

JAVIER DUARTE: Javier Duarte de Ochoa.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Spanish).

DUARTE: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Asked for his name and age, the 43-year-old Duarte readily complied, then listened to more than 30 minutes of the charges facing him in Mexico, including organized crime and illicit enrichment charges. Duarte wasn't the only fugitive nabbed this month. Tomas Yarrington, ex-governor of the northern border state of Tamaulipas, was picked up in Italy and is expected to be sent to the U.S. to face drug and money laundering charges. President Enrique Pena Nieto hailed the two men's arrest as an overwhelming message against impunity. That's a hard sell for a president who's seen his popularity plummet due to his own conflict of interest scandals. And of the 11 former governors accused of wrongdoing now, all but one is from Pena Nieto's political party. Fernanda Gomez Aban, of the nonprofit Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity, says the list of accusations against the governors is long.

FERNANDA GOMEZ ABAN: Most of them are accused, first, of corruption, misappropriation of funds, drug dealing activities, tax fraud, illicit enrichment.

KAHN: She has to catch her breath before making it to the end. All of the former officials say they are innocent, but it's Duarte, the former Veracruz governor, who faces the most public wrath.

ALBERTO OLVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "He is the worst example of corruption in Mexico," says Alberto Olvera, a sociologist at the University of Veracruz. Possibly the worst case in Mexican history, he adds. Estimates of how much Duarte diverted from the oil-rich state run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. He's accused of buying up luxury properties in Mexico and abroad through a vast network of bank accounts and fake businesses.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

KAHN: One front company was registered to this address, a two-story home kitty corner to a PRI Party office building in the state capital of Xalapa. No one answered when I knocked. Next door, security guard Alejandro Hernandez says federal agents have searched the home several times this year.

ALEJANDRO HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We all placed our trust in Duarte and look what we got," he says. What they got was a bankrupt state, says sociologist Olvera. While corruption is nothing new in Mexico, Olvera says it picked up at the state level after the 2000 election when the PRI Party lost power for the first time in 71 years.

OLVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: He says what came out of that victory was the breakup of the president's concentrated power, which, along with billions of dollars, was redistributed to the states. Unfortunately, he says, the necessary checks and balances to oversee that money didn't follow. Researcher Fernanda Gomez Aban of Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity says Mexico's problems go beyond corrupt governors.

ABAN: Well, they are just the tip of the iceberg. They didn't act alone.

KAHN: She says they created vast networks to exploit Mexico's weak institutions and laws. And if Mexico is to become a true democracy, she says, then it better get to the bottom of that corruption. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Veracruz, Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPALACHES' "MSTQZOTQ") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.