U.S. Markets closed

Mexico seeks state governor on organized crime charges

Javier Duarte, Governor of the state of Veracruz, attends a news conference in Xalapa, Mexico, August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has issued an arrest warrant for an outgoing state governor in the ruling party suspected of involvement in organized crime and money laundering, the attorney general said on Wednesday, amid fears he has gone missing.

Javier Duarte, who took a leave of absence this week from the governorship of Veracruz just as his term was ending, has presided over a spike in gang violence and kidnappings in the oil-rich state favored by drug cartels as a trafficking route.

Accusations of widespread corruption in his administration had become an embarrassment for President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Duarte, who has denied any wrongdoing, has overseen a doubling of state debt, and to many Mexicans he has become a symbol of political corruption and impunity.

"The security cabinet is working in a coordinated manner to possibly locate him," Attorney General Arely Gomez said at a news conference in the Pacific resort of Acapulco. "The arrest warrant was issued for the crimes of organized crime and money laundering."

Duarte could not immediately be reached for comment. He has not appeared in public since giving an interview on Mexican television last week.

Veracruz's interim Governor Flavino Rios told local radio on Tuesday he did not know where Duarte was and said "each person is responsible for his actions" when asked if his predecessor's name had been unfairly besmirched.

Duarte's term ends in six weeks when the opposition will take power in Veracruz. Pena Nieto's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) lost the state during a series of reverses in regional elections in June. The results were widely attributed to voter anger at rampant corruption.

Gomez said warrants had also been issued for nine associates of Duarte, and that two were arrested on Tuesday.

But the opposition said Duarte risked getting away.

"They already had enough information that the attorney general's office was going to ask for an arrest warrant. Why were they not watching him?" Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) lawmaker Jesus Zambrano said in a statement.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said there was no record of Duarte leaving the country, and denied there had been a deal to let his fellow Institutional Revolutionary Party member escape.

"It is precisely the government of Enrique Pena Nieto that has acted against these governors," he said, noting it had arrested the last PRI governor of Tabasco in 2013 on corruption charges.

(Reporting by Anahi Rama and Natalie Schachar; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Richard Chang)