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US indicts ex-Mexico governor on drug charges

Photo: Tomas Yarrington Facebook page

US authorities on Monday indicted Tomas Yarrington, a former Mexican governor from the country’s ruling PRI party, with smuggling tonnes of drugs into Texas, as well as other serious crimes for which he could face up to 60 years in jail sentences.

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US federal prosecutors on Monday brought multiple charges against a former governor of the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, including racketeering, money laundering, drug conspiracy and bank fraud – crimes for which the one-time Mexican presidential hopeful could face up to 60 years of jail time.

A member of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) until he ran into trouble with US authorities last year, Yarrington, 57, was the mayor of the border city of Matamoros between 1992 and 1995.

He then served as the governor of Tamaulipas state from 1999 to 2004, and unsuccessfully tried to secure the PRI’s presidential nomination in 2005.

A fugitive from justice since 2012, Yarrington is only the latest PRI politician indicted by prosecutors in Texas, in what could be a potentially embarrassing string of cases for Mexico’s current administration.

Millions in bribes

Beginning around 1998, Yarrington allegedly began to receive millions of dollars in bribes from drug traffickers, including the notorious Gulf Cartel, to allow smugglers to freely conduct their operations. He then purchased valuable assets, including a luxury condo in South Padre Island, Texas, according to the indictment.

From 2007 to 2009, US security officials say he became involved in smuggling large amounts of marijuana and cocaine into the United States, and established front companies in South and West Texas to help in the criminal conspiracy.

The 53-page indictment revealed by prosecutors and law-enforcement agents on Monday said the suspect had also used stolen public funds of up to $300,000 in the purchase of a Sabreliner 60 private jet. He was also linked to several counts of bank fraud and illegal currency transactions.

Suspended by PRI

Yarrington first made headlines in the US last year, after Texas prosecutors said they were investigating him on drug smuggling and money laundering allegations.

Quickly going into hiding with suspected crime associate Fernando Cano, the former governor was suspended from his party in May 2012. Peña Nieto and other PRI officials have called on Yarrington to surrender to police and face the charges.

In its 2013 report, the Washington-based organisation Freedom House said official corruption remained a serious problem in Mexico since Peña Nieto came to power.

Two other PRI leaders, Hector Villarreal and Jorge Torres, were separately charged with fraud, theft and illegal money transfers in South Texas last week.

Villereal is a former finance secretary of Coahuila state, while Jorge Torres served as its interim governor in 2011.

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