Former Mexican ruling party boss arrested in Spain

A former leader of Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and erstwhile ally of President Enrique Pena Nieto has been arrested in Spain, Mexican and Spanish officials said on Friday.

Humberto Moreira, who was PRI chairman in 2011 before he stood down after a debt scandal was uncovered in Coahuila, the northern state he had previously governed, was arrested in Madrid’s international airport, the Spanish official said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.

Moreira was arrested in an operation against money laundering and other crimes, the Spanish official said.

Moreira’s former finance secretary in Coahuila pled guilty in Texas to federal money laundering charges in 2014 and the man who replaced him as interim governor is also wanted in the United States on suspicion of embezzling millions.

The finance ministry of Mexico’s previous center-right administration launched an investigation in 2011 into Coahuila’s finances after it emerged Moreira had presided over a massive increase in its debts during his 2005-2011 governorship.

Some of the debt, which was then worth close to $3 billion, had been contracted with falsified paperwork, according to documents published in local media.

Pena Nieto was elected president in July, 2012 and his campaign to be the PRI candidate was gathering steam throughout 2011 under Moreira’s leadership of the party.

Pena Nieto has faced criticism for failing to go after PRI officials accused of graft, including three of its former governors indicted in the United States.

Mexican presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez told a news conference the government had no information on the matter. A PRI spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Moreira, whose older brother Ruben now governs Coahuila, moved to Spain for a time after he stood down as PRI boss. More recently, PRI officials said he had returned to Mexico.

Coahuila was wracked by violent turf wars under Moreira’s rule after the brutal Zetas drug cartel moved into the state. Moreira’s son Jose Eduardo was shot dead by suspected members of the gang near the state border with Texas in October, 2012.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City and Rodrigo de Miguel in Madrid; Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Chris Reese and Alistair Bell)

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