MEXICO CITY – Mexico's former ruling party said Wednesday it will suspend the party membership of a former governor accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from drug cartels.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party said the former governor of the border state of Tamaulipas, Tomas Yarrington, will be suspended until the accusations are cleared up. The party, known as the PRI, held Mexico's presidency without interruption from 1929 to 2000, and continues to govern most Mexican states.
"The PRI calls upon Mr. Yarrington to fully cooperate with the appropriate authorities to clear up the acts of which he is accused," the party said in a news release. "Mr. Yarrington should face his personal responsibility ... Where illegal acts are proved, the law should be fully applied."
The party in the past has often been accused of protecting governors against charges of corruption and malfeasance, and only two former governors — one of them a PRI member — have been arrested in recent memory.
Yarrington served as governor from 1999 to 2004 in a state considered the home turf of the Gulf cartel.
Yarrington has not been charged with any crime, but U.S. federal prosecutors filed two civil forfeiture cases Tuesday seeking to seize more than $7 million in properties Yarrington or his associates allegedly bought in Texas. U.S. authorities are trying to confiscate a condominium in South Padre Island and a 46-acre property in San Antonio.
Yarrington's lawyer, Joel Androphy, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Yarrington does not own the properties in question and is innocent of the allegations. Androphy suggested that other targets of federal investigations have implicated the ex-governor to improve their own situations.
"Obviously desperate people say desperate things and obviously there are desperate people using his name for some sort of their own personal gain and that is just not true," Androphy said.
Yarrington was mentioned earlier this year in the federal indictment of Antonio Pena Arguelles, who was charged with money laundering in San Antonio. That indictment alleges that leaders of the Gulf and Zetas cartels paid millions to PRI members, including Yarrington.
An affidavit filed in that case said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had obtained ledgers documenting millions of dollars in payments to Yarrington's representatives. It accused Pena of using U.S. bank accounts to funnel millions to Yarrington from leaders of the Gulf and the Zetas. Confidential informants said the money was to buy political influence in Tamaulipas.
Also Wednesday, Mexico's federal Attorney General's Office said it had extradited an alleged top operator for the Beltran Leyva cartel to the United States, to face a federal indictment in a Texas district court on drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
Mexican marines captured suspect Sergio Villarreal Barragan, a presumed leader of the embattled Beltran Leyva cartel and one of the country's most-wanted fugitives, in a raid in the central state of Puebla in September 2010. He was turned over to U.S. authorities Tuesday.
Known as "El Grande," or "The Big One," because of his size, Villarreal Barragan had been a government witness following his arrest, according to an employee of the attorney general's office who was not authorized to speak on the record. The employee said Villarreal Barragan had been one of the witnesses whose testimony was used to detain four high-ranking Mexican army officers, including three generals, on suspicion of aiding the Beltran Leyva cartel.
All of the officers are being held under a form of house arrest and have not yet been charged. The lawyers for two of the generals said their clients are innocent and their rights have been violated during their detention.