Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – Mexico’s government has been hit with a new corruption scandal and criticism at home and abroad after the former governor of Veracruz resigned abruptly and disappeared days before a warrant was issued for his arrest on corruption and money laundering charges.
A spokesman for the attorney general’s office confirmed that a judge issued the arrest warrant for former governor Javier Duarte on Oct. 17.
Warrants were also issued for nine other individuals, two of whom have been detained, the spokesman said.
Duarte’s disappearance on Oct. 15 brings to four the number of former governors in Mexico reportedly trying to avoid domestic or international corruption charges.
Eugenio Hernández and Tomas Yarrington, both former governors of the state of Tamaulipas, have been indicted in the U.S. on money laundering charges, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper quoted sources as saying the two ex-governors are “living openly” in Mexico.
It also reported that Guillermo Padrés, the former governor of Sonora, is also on the lam avoiding corruption charges in Mexico.
The former Veracruz governor’s ability to skip town just prior to the issuing of a warrant for his arrest is “shocking,” said Maureen Meyer, a Mexico specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America.
“This is not something unique to Duarte, and it’s very surprising that the government hasn’t developed a better protocol for security when investigating someone for very serious crimes,” she said.
“It’s very surprising the government waited so long before investigating him.”
“The arrest warrant was issued very late in Duarte’s case given all the evidence that he was tied to the robbing of funds,” said Raul Benítez, a professor and security specialist the Mexico’s national university UNAM.
“It’s a negative for the government because they didn’t act more quickly. In order to capture his type, you have to grab him when he is in office.”
Benítez speculated that Duarte may have been tipped off prior to the issuing of the arrest warrant.
John M. Ackerman, a law professor at UNAM and editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review, agreed.
He compared Duarte’s disappearance to the highly publicized escape of narcotics kingpin Chapo Guzman from a Mexican prison last year.
Duarte’s disappearance “can only have been by design,” Ackerman charged. “He out of the blue asked to resign, which is not at all normal. Then they let a couple of days pass for him to escape and after that they issued the order for his arrest.”
Interior Secretary Osorio Chong “categorically” denied questions of government complicity in Duarte’s disappearance.
The Red Politica news portal quoted Chong as saying authorities have no knowledge of Duarte exiting the country legally and believe he may still be in Mexico.
The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) suspended Duarte’s membership in September.
Tristan Reed, a Mexico analyst for the international security consultancy Stratfor, called the issuing of an arrest warrant for Duarte “another telling sign” that the PRI administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto “is trying to provide a public display that they are fighting corruption.”
“It does show that Mexico is continuing to deal with rampant corruption at all levels,” Reed said.
Duarte disappeared soon after he announced his resignation, 48 days prior to the end of his term.
In a video online explaining his decision to resign, Duarte said he would clear his name of any wrongdoing and had always applied the law as governor.
Duarte had been dogged by published allegations of corruption for months, including a report by the national news portal Animal Politico last May that state coffers were robbed of nearly 700,000 pesos by Duarte’s functionaries who allegedly awarded state purchases to sham companies.
A report by the same news outlet earlier this month said a public audit in 2015 pointed to 400 million in missing pesos during the previous year from the state’s coffers.
Veracruz has been racked by organized crime and narcotics violence, according to José Antonio Ortega, president of the citizen watchdog group Security, Justice and Peace.
He told CNSNews.com the situation there is “critical.”
Seventeen journalist were murdered, and five disappeared in Veracruz during Duarte’s administration, according to a report by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.