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Guatemala extradites Mexican ex-governor Duarte

© AFP | Guatemalan police put former Mexican governor Javier Duarte (C), on a plane to Mexico to face racketeering and money-laundering charges

GUATEMALA CITY (AFP) - 

Guatemala extradited Mexican ex-governor Javier Duarte Monday to face racketeering and money-laundering charges back home, one of a series of scandals involving ex-governors that have embarrassed President Enrique Pena Nieto's government.

Duarte is known for presiding over an explosion of violence and human rights abuses in the eastern state of Veracruz from 2010 to 2016, when he abruptly resigned and went into hiding.

Arrested at a lakeside resort in Guatemala in April, he denies the federal and state corruption charges he faces in Mexico.

Duarte, 43, is one of six Mexican ex-governors under arrest for corruption, fraud, money laundering or racketeering.

Five of the six are current or former members of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Prosecutors accuse Duarte of involvement in organized crime and a "complex scheme" of illegal financial transactions.

At his extradition hearings in Guatemala, they presented evidence that he set up shell companies, made dodgy real estate deals and bought a yacht in the United States.

Duarte's lawyer, Carlos Velasquez, called the case against his client "political persecution."

Sporting a bushy beard at his extradition hearings, the portly Duarte grinned for the cameras and put on a show for journalists outside the court, telling them: "My Uber is here.... Don't trip over yourselves, I'll go slowly so you can take my picture."

He had shaved his beard and was straight-faced as police escorted him Monday in a bullet-proof vest and handcuffs to the small jet flying him back to Mexico.

Violent crime skyrocketed in Veracruz under Duarte.

The state became one of the most violent in Mexico, registering more than 4,500 murders -- including those of 21 journalists -- and more than 200 disappearances.

The scandals involving Mexican ex-governors led to the PRI losing five governorships last year, and have badly damaged the party heading into presidential elections next year.

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© 2017 AFP