Authorities in Mexico have arrested a former governor of the embattled state of Tamaulipas on charges of embezzlement and misuse of public funds. His capture raises questions over issues related to the timing of his arrest, as well as whether he will face justice in Mexico.
On October 6, Tamaulipas state police arrested Eugenio Hernández Flores, who governed the state between 2005 and 2010, in Ciudad Victoria, according to a press release from the local Attorney General's Office.
In a movie-like scene, Hernández Flores was allegedly captured while driving his BMW motorcycle with a group of friends. Helicopters descended on him from above and hooded men exited a van to intercept the former governor on the ground, Animal Político reported.
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The charges leading to his arrest originate from Hernández Flores' alleged purchase of a 1,600 hectare plot of land with public money, according to the press release.
The previously state-owned land is valued at around 1.584 million pesos (around $85,000) and located in the port of Altamira -- one of Mexico's five most significant ports -- along the Gulf coast. According to an October 7 press release, the land was expropriated by the federal government in 1996, then transferred to the Nuevo Santander Trust organization in 2002. The trust sold the land to a "private individual" that same year, and it was subsequently sold to another individual five years later during Hernández Flores' administration. The land has reportedly now been secured by the state authorities.
Hernández Flores is also wanted in the United States -- he was indicted along with his brother-in-law in 2015 for allegedly operating a money laundering scheme that laundered some $30 million.
InSight Crime Analysis
Hernández Flores is the latest former governor from President Enrique Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional - PRI) to face charges for alleged criminal activity. The state he previously governed -- Tamaulipas -- and its elites have a long and complex history and relationship with organized crime.
Before Hernández Flores, Tomás Yarrington, who governed Tamaulipas between 1999 and 2005, was arrested in Italy in April on charges ranging from drug trafficking to money laundering both in the United States and Mexico. Yarrington will face trial in the United States.
It remains to be seen if Hernández Flores will be forced to do the same. Reporting in the United States suggests that an extradition warrant for him could be in the works. Unless he is extradited, the impact of his case in Mexico could be limited as he is being prosecuted at the state, not federal, level.
The timing of the arrest of Hernández Flores is interesting. He was captured just days after an arrest warrant was issued by state authorities for him earlier this month, yet the former governor has been wanted by US authorities since 2015. In an incident seen as illustrative of the failure of both the state and federal government to crack down on corruption, Hernández Flores was reportedly photographed voting in gubernatorial elections in June 2016, despite being on the wanted list of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at the time.
The former governor's arrest could be in part thanks to a push by the new governor Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca, who is a member of the opposition National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional - PAN). He campaigned on an anti-corruption agenda and could be trying to implement that in a state being ruled by a party other than the PRI for the first time in its modern history.
Nationwide, the PRI's recent targeting of corrupt former governors such as Yarrington and Javier Duarte (former governor of the state of Veracruz) has been widely interpreted as an attempt to clean house before the upcoming elections in 2018. In 2016 alone, five former Mexican governors, who were all at one point members of the PRI, faced corruption charges.