MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - A Mexican judge has ordered properties of a former state governor in the ruling party seized as part of an investigation into fraud and other crimes, putting the spotlight on political corruption ahead of local elections this weekend.
Ernesto Canales, the anti-corruption czar in the opposition-controlled region of Nuevo Leon, said Friday that the order was against several officials, including ex-state governor Rodrigo Medina, for suspected embezzlement, breach of office and other crimes that cost the state 3.6 billion pesos ($194 million).
“This is not a campaign against a group of officials,” Canales said. “It’s about highlighting conduct of a group of public officials that shouldn’t have occurred.”
Canales said the seizure was related to the installation of a Korean plant in the state, an apparent reference to the 2014 deal between Medina’s government and carmaker Kia Motors for a $1 billion works in Nuevo Leon.
Nuevo Leon’s new government says the deal violated state law by offering “excessive” incentives; it is working with Kia to end the dispute.
Senior Mexican officials say local officials profited from land deals anticipating Kia’s arrival.
Medina, who was governor of Nuevo Leon from 2009 to 2015, belongs to President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Medina said he was innocent of the charges, which he described as politically motivated attacks before regional elections this weekend, newspaper Reforma reported on Friday.
“We are, without a doubt, in the presence of a political persecution,” Reforma cited Medina as saying.
Canales said Medina and the other officials would have to respond to charges the state’s anti-corruption authorities would be presenting to a judge in the next two months.
Home to the industrial city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon is one of the country’s richest regions. Medina’s record in office came under heavy scrutiny last year, when the state elected Mexico’s first independent governor to succeed him.
Jaime Rodriguez, a former PRI politician nicknamed “El Bronco” (the gruff one), won the Nuevo Leon governorship by a landslide last June after running an anti-establishment campaign that railed against corruption in Latin America’s No. 2 economy.
The PRI ruled for 71 consecutive years until it was voted out in 2000. By then it had become a byword for corruption.
Pena Nieto returned the party to power in 2012, pledging a new era of clean government. However, his administration has battled allegations of graft during the past two years.
In a statement, Nuevo Leon said 11 officials were targeted in the seizures. Canales initially spoke of seven officials.
Reporting by Gabriela Lopez; Editing by Leslie Adler and Richard Chang