Guatemala clears way to extradite ex-Mexican governor

Duarte de Ochoa, former governor of Mexican state Veracruz, gestures from inside a vehicle while leaving after a court appearance for extradition proceedings in Guatemala City

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Guatemala’s Supreme Court on Thursday ratified the extradition of Javier Duarte, a former state governor from Mexico’s ruling party wanted on charges of embezzlement and organized crime, and he could soon be turned over to Mexican authorities, a top official said.

Carlos Morales, Guatemala’s foreign minister, told reporters that the Mexican embassy in the Central American nation had been notified that the court’s ruling allowed for Duarte to be taken to Mexico as soon as Mexican authorities can put him on a plane.

“As of this afternoon, we are able to hand over Duarte in an hour, in two hours, if Mexico wants it that way,” he said.

An official at Mexico’s attorney general’s office said they did not expect to bring Duarte back to Mexico in the coming hours.

Duarte, who governed Veracruz for President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) until last year, denies any wrongdoing.

He was arrested in Guatemala in April after more than five months on the run. He disappeared last October after he stepped down from office and authorities issued an arrest warrant.

He is now facing state-level and federal charges relating to accusations he used state institutions to funnel public funds into private companies.

Duarte has been held in a military prison in the Guatemalan capital since his arrest.

Under Duarte’s rule, the oil-rich state of Veracruz saw a spike in gang violence and kidnappings. Accusations of widespread corruption in his administration had become an embarrassment for Pena Nieto.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)