Ex-Pemex boss faces hearing over graft charges on return to Mexico

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A former boss of Mexican state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos faces an initial court hearing on Friday, an official said, as he lands in Mexico from Spain to answer corruption charges that could engulf leaders of the last government.

FILE PHOTO: Former chief executive of Mexico's state oil firm Pemex, Emilio Lozoya, is escorted by Spanish police officers as he leaves a court after appeared in Spain's High Court via video conference after his detention in southern Spain on Wednesday, in Marbella, Spain February 13, 2020. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo

Emilio Lozoya has been charged with bribery and money laundering dating back to his 2012-16 tenure at the helm of the firm known as Pemex.

He should face a first court hearing on Friday, a Mexican official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Under Mexican law, Lozoya, 45, must make an initial statement to a judge once he enters the country.

Spanish police said on Thursday the Bombardier Challenger plane Lozoya boarded for his extradition to Mexico departed Madrid in late afternoon.

The jet later arrived in Canada’s Gander airport before heading for Mexico City, a second Mexican official said.

Once a rising star of Mexican politics, Lozoya has become a key piece in President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s bid to expose graft in and around the government he took over from his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, in late 2018.

Scion of a political family and a former grandee of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Lozoya has agreed to inform Mexican authorities about what went on during the government of Pena Nieto, Lopez Obrador says.

“This voluntary extradition is going to do a lot to help purify public life, to clean up corruption in the country,” Lopez Obrador told a news conference on Thursday.

According to prosecutors, Lozoya solicited and obtained funds from Brazilian firm Odebrecht for Pena Nieto’s 2012 presidential campaign, in which Pena Nieto defeated Lopez Obrador.

In exchange, Lozoya awarded contracts to the firm as boss of Pemex and also took money for contracts from Mexican steelmaker Altos Hornos de Mexico, they contend.

Prosecutors allege that while at Pemex, Lozoya spent some $450 million renovating and acquiring an out-of-service fertilizer plant from Altos Hornos de Mexico.

Odebrecht has admitted paying bribes in Mexico. The bosses of Altos Hornos have denied wrongdoing.

Lozoya, who was arrested in the southern Spanish city of Malaga in February, has denied any wrongdoing.

Lawyers for Lozoya have said he acted under the orders of Pena Nieto, who has also denied any wrongdoing.

Lopez Obrador has been reluctant to point the finger directly at Pena Nieto.

But the veteran leftist has suggested that Pena Nieto’s landmark 2013-14 liberalization of the energy market, which Lopez Obrador strongly opposed, was tainted by corruption.

Mexican media have been awash with speculation that Lozoya will make revelations about ex-colleagues, and politicians involved in the energy reform, to reduce any possible sentence.

Reporting by Jesús Aguado in Madrid and Dave Graham and Diego Ore in Mexico City; Editing by Alistair Bell and Rosalba O’Brien