U.S. prosecutors accuse ex-Mexican governor of laundering millions

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 26, 2013 5:14 PM

By Jared Taylor

McALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have accused a former Mexican state governor of laundering stolen millions via the United States, in an unwelcome reminder for the Mexican government of corruption allegations dogging the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

The PRI's long rule of Mexico in the 20th century was increasingly marred by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, which helped bring down the party in a 2000 election after 71 years in office.

But the PRI returned to power last year after a presidential election victory by Enrique Pena Nieto, who immediately pledged to improve transparency and root out graft.

U.S. prosecutors have now asked a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, to seize some $2.8 million from a Bermuda-based account they said belongs to Jorge Torres, who served in 2011 as PRI governor of Coahuila state, which borders Texas.

Before his 11-month interim stint as governor, Torres served as finance secretary of Coahuila and mayor of the state capital, Saltillo. The U.S. lawsuit alleges he colluded in 2008 with another local government official to funnel millions of dollars in illicit funds to a Bermuda account from bank accounts in Texas.

His alleged accomplice was Hector Javier Villarreal, who followed Torres as Coahuila's finance secretary, and is wanted on suspicion of defrauding the state of millions of dollars.

The civil lawsuit against Torres is the latest in a string of federal court filings in the United States into alleged financial wrongdoing by senior PRI officials.

Torres could not immediately be reached for comment on the suit, but he denied the allegations in a statement published by the Zocalo newspaper in Saltillo.

"I will prove my innocence and the legality of these funds, which are lawful and the property of myself and my family and the product of a life of work," the paper quoted him as saying.

Mexico's attorney general's office said it was aware of the suit but that no complaints had yet been filed against Torres.

Torres became Coahuila governor after Humberto Moreira stepped down to become party chairman of the PRI in 2011. Moreira then caused embarrassment to Pena Nieto's presidential run with a scandal over his management of the state's finances.

After Moreira switched posts, it emerged Coahuila's debt had grown by more than 30 billion pesos ($2.30 billion) between the start of his governorship in 2005 and 2011. That prompted him to resign as PRI chairman, and sparked corruption allegations.

Moreira's brother is now governor of the state.

Since Pena Nieto took office, the government has arrested two former senior PRI officials suspected of corruption - former teachers' union boss Elba Esther Gordillo and ex-Tabasco state Governor Andres Granier - but others remain at large.

Former Tamaulipas Governor Tomas Yarrington is wanted in the United States on suspicion of aiding drug gangs. He has not come forward since an arrest warrant was issued for him last year.

In February, U.S. authorities seized $2.2 million from a bank account they said was controlled by Villarreal, the former state treasurer of Coahuila, who is now a fugitive.

Two weeks after the seizure of that account became public, U.S. prosecutors say Torres attempted to move the money from his Bermuda bank account to another in his name in Germany. ($1 = 13.0242 Mexican pesos)

(Editing by Dave Graham and Peter Cooney)