A former Mexican governor accused of ties with organized crime has been captured in Italy, a sign that Mexico’s ruling PRI party could be trying to clean up its act ahead of presidential elections next year.

A joint operation by Italian and Mexican police led to the arrest of Tomás Yarrington on April 9 in Florence, reported El Comercio. Yarrington, who served as governor of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI) between 1999 and 2005, is accused of allegedly cooperating with the Gulf and Zetas drug cartels.

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduria General de la Republica – PGR) and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have been looking for Yarrington since 2012. The DEA accused Yarrington of receiving money from organized crime groups and using it to purchase properties in Texas. In December 2013, a Texas court indicted the former governor for cooperating with drug traffickers and receiving bribes, reported Milenio.

In November 2016, authorities offered 15 million pesos (approximately $800,000) for information that could lead to his capture.

Yarrington will be extradited to Mexico in the following days, El Comercio understood.

InSight Crime Analysis

Yarrington’s capture could be a sign that the PRI, the party of President Enrique Peña Nieto, is trying to show that it is willing to punish corruption and collusion with organized crime within its ranks ahead of gubernatorial elections in June and presidential elections in 2018.

The case involving the former governor of Tamaulipas is one of many examples of links between high-ranking officials and organized crime groups in recent times. In January 2016, Humberto Moreira, a previous governor in the state of Coahuila and former PRI party president, was captured in Spain on allegations of money laundering and alleged links with the Zetas. Moreira served as Coahuila’s governor from 2005 – 2011 before resigning to become head of the PRI, a position he held for less than a year before he resigned amid embezzlement accusations.

But despite the allegations against him, Moreira is running in June’s election for a position in the Coahuila state legislature, this time with a different political party.

A total of five former Mexican governors were accused of corruption in 2016 alone, and at the end of March the attorney general of the state of Nayarit was arrested in the United States on drug trafficking charges.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles 

In October 2016, the PRI threw out former governor of the state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte. Duarte resigned from his post amid corruption allegations on October 12, but went missing only a few days later, dealing another blow to the credibility of Peña Nieto’s government. Duarte’s whereabouts remain unknown.

On June 4, 2017, Mexicans will be voting to elect four new governors. The PRI lost the states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas last year for the first time in modern Mexican history — both key states for the party as well as some of the country’s most violent entities and important territories for criminal groups. Collusion between organized crime, politicians and elites in Tamaulipas is part of the border state’s history and culture, some observers would argue.

President Peña Nieto’s popularity has been hammered by corruption scandals and human rights atrocities, some of them at the hands of state security forces acting as part of Mexico’s militarized crackdown on organized crime. If the party loses any other major states, its chances of winning the presidency in 2018 get slimmer. 

Of particular importance is the June gubernatorial election result in the state of Mexico, which hugs Mexico City and is a PRI stronghold. Peña Nieto was governor there before he was elected president, and it is one of the most populated states in the country with the greatest number of nationally registered voters. Losing the state of Mexico would add to growing doubts over the PRI’s strength and ability to govern.

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