Mexican officials can't find the ex-governor of Veracruz, wanted in a corruption probe

Notorious ex-governor goes missing as Mexican authorities issue arrest warrant

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is having a bad year. Historically low approval ratings, a disastrous meeting with Donald Trump, a collapsing peso, rising murder rates, and persistent allegations of corruption have piled up for the beleaguered president.

And now there’s a missing-person situation: On Wednesday, Mexican officials admitted they did not know the whereabouts of Veracruz’s notorious ex-governor Javier Duarte, who is currently under investigation in a high-profile corruption case.

Many of Mexico’s current and former governors have reputations for being deeply corrupt, but few of them approach the level of crookedness ascribed to Duarte.

That’s why the Mexican public welcomed the news that the attorney general’s office had begun a major corruption investigation into Duarte and some of his closest aides. Finally, it seemed, Peña Nieto’s government was taking seriously his many pledges to crack down on the rampant government-related graft that Mexicans identify as one of their chief concerns. The fact that the 43-year-old Duarte belongs to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party further bolstered the impression that Peña Nieto was addressing the problem seriously.

Yet, just as a judge authorized an arrest warrant for the embattled governor, Duarte went missing.

“What is going on with this government that even when it does things right, it does them wrong?” news anchor Carlos Puig asked in his column in the Milenio newspaper.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong provided few answers to that question when he confirmed Duarte’s disappearance in an interview on Radio Fórmula Wednesday morning, after several days of rumors and unconfirmed reports.

“Duarte going missing is a slap in the face.”

The minister said the authorities began looking for the governor as soon as the warrant was issued and were now “working to try to locate him.”

But while Osorio Chong dodged questions about why Duarte had not been under surveillance, the interior minister refuted the widely held assumption that the government had deliberately turned a blind eye.

“There has been no deal of any kind, or in any sense, with the ex-governor of Veracruz,” Osorio Chong insisted. “This government was the one that started the legal procedures against him.”

Duarte’s disappearance comes a few weeks after the former governor of Sonora, Guillermo Padrés, slipped away before he could be arrested in connection with a separate corruption investigation.

The Padrés case, however, is making fewer waves, partly because of his membership in the opposition National Action Party, and partly because he’s simply not as hated as Duarte.

The ex-governor is famed as much for his cavalier attitude toward the horrific violence in his state as for his alleged appetite for graft. His administration regularly filed away high-profile murders as crimes of passion.

“Duarte going missing is a slap in the face,” Lucía García, of the Colectivo, told the news site Sin Embargo. “It is a concert of cynicism played by colluded officials. Once again impunity reigns in Mexico.”

Activist priest Alejandro Solalinde — world-renowned for his work with Central American migrants, many of whom have been kidnapped as they travel toward the U.S. through Veracruz — directly accused the attorney general’s office of collusion.

“It is unacceptable that they let Duarte get away,” he tweeted. “It makes them accomplices.”

Peña Nieto’s government has faced embarrassing escapes before, such as cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s July 2015 dash from his maximum-security jail cell.

Still, this case bites particularly hard for the current Mexican president. As a young presidential candidate in 2012, Peña Nieto put Duarte among the “new generation” of fresh and clean governors from the PRI. He claimed these local leaders were helping his campaign return the party to the federal government.

Duarte’s disappearance also strikes at the heart of the president’s effort to rebuild trust among the Mexican public. “My government now, more than ever before, has a need to prove its commitment with actions that combat graft,” Peña Nieto said in an interview with the Televisa network in August.

Cover: (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

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