Mexico's former ruling party on Saturday suspended the membership of a former governor accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from a drug cartel.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party said in a statement that the ex-governor of the border state of Tamaulipas, Tomas Yarrington, has been suspended from the party until the accusations are cleared up.
Party leader Joaquin Coldwell asked that Yarrington's party rights be suspended and a commission agreed to the request during a special weekend session.
Coldwell urged Yarrington to cooperate with authorities so that the probe doesn't affect upcoming elections.
The party, known as the PRI, held Mexico's presidency without interruption from 1929 to 2000, and continues to govern most Mexican states.
The PRI's presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, is leading his two main opponents by double digits in opinion polls ahead of Mexico's July 1 election. His rivals, particularly the candidate of the current ruling party, have tried to dent his lead by accusing the party of maintaining decades-long corrupt ties to organized crime and have cited cases in Tamaulipas as prime examples.
Yarrington was governor of Tamaulipas, the home base of the Gulf drug cartel, from 1999 to 2004.
Yarrington has not been charged with any crime, but U.S. federal prosecutors filed two civil forfeiture cases Tuesday seeking to seize more than $7 million in properties Yarrington or his associates allegedly bought in Texas. U.S. authorities are trying to confiscate a condominium in South Padre Island and a 46-acre property in San Antonio.
The Corpus Christi case alleges Yarrington used various front men and businesses "to become a major real estate investor through various money laundering mechanisms."
Yarrington's lawyer, Joel Androphy, said Yarrington does not own the properties in question and is innocent of the allegations. Androphy suggested that other targets of federal investigations have implicated the ex-governor to improve their own situations.
Mexican federal prosecutors have searched Yarrington's home in Matamoros, a city across the border from Brownsville, Texas and a stronghold of the Gulf cartel. Yarrington was mayor of Matamoros from 1992 to 1995, said an official at the Attorney General's office in Tamaulipas on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss the case.
Prosecutors also searched the homes in Matamoros and the capital city of Ciudad Victoria of three businessmen who U.S. authorities say acted as front men for Yarrington. One of the men, Napoleon Rodriguez de la Garza was brought to Mexico City for questioning, he said.
Associated Press writer Efrain Klerigan contributed to this story from Ciudad Victoria, Mexico.