Mexico arrests former high-ranking PRI official in corruption probe

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 20, 2017 11:30 PM

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A former high-ranking official from Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto's party was arrested on Wednesday as part of a corruption investigation in the northern state of Chihuahua, the state's governor said.

Alejandro Gutierrez, who was the adjunct secretary to the presidency of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was arrested in a joint operation between state and federal police, Chihuahua Governor Javier Corral wrote in a post on Facebook.

The arrest extends a streak of corruption allegations that have dogged the PRI, which has seen four former governors arrested on such charges this year. Mexico's entrenched corruption is expected to be a key issue as voters head to the polls for the next presidential election in 2018.

This week, Mexican newspaper Reforma published stories on an alleged Chihuahua corruption scheme to funnel 250 million pesos into the PRI's campaign fund through avenues such as fake contracts for workshops for parents and expensive software.

The stories were based on testimony to prosecutors from former state finance minister Jaime Herrera which was obtained by the newspaper.

Gutierrez' arrest took place in Coahuila. This week, he rejected allegations against him in an interview with Mexican newspaper Vanguardia. He said he was considering suing for defamation.

"I am thinking, I will have to look into it, if I initiate some legal proceeding," he said. "I do not know, I repeat to you, I did not know not even one official, nor ex-official, of finances... I see things that are absolutely false."

Corral, of the National Action Party, described Gutierrez' arrest as part of an effort to clean up the corruption of his PRI predecessor's tenure.

The arrest "contributes to the clearing up of the crimes of political corruption that have been attributed to the former governor César Duarte Jáquez," Corral said.

The government is determining whether others should be held responsible for the funneling of funds to PRI coffers in 2016, Corral added.

In March, a Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for Duarte on suspicion of embezzlement. Corral has said he is a fugitive from justice.

A spokesman for the PRI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The PRI were routed in 2016 regional elections, losing several of their bastions including the states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Quintana Roo as voters showed their discontent over a series of graft scandals.

(Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez in Ciudad Juarez and Christine Murray and Julia Love in Mexico City; Editing by Michael Perry)