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The arrest of an ex-governor of the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas caps a five-year, seemingly desultory search for the ruling-party politician accused of organized crime and money laundering.
It may have been one of the least serious searches in history. Analysts say the government was loath to arrest one of its own, a man who both reflected badly on the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and who may have held sensitive information on other corrupt officials.
U.S. prosecutors have publicly alleged since 2012 that Tomas Yarrington accepted millions of dollars in drug cartel bribes and invested it in Texas real estate. But Mexico didn't offer a reward for his capture until last November.
The current Tamaulipas governor, Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, said that Yarrington — who left office in 2005, and has faced charges since 2012 — still had a government-provided bodyguard assigned to him until late last year. The farcical nature of a policeman assigned to guard him while he was on the lam ended only because Garcia Cabeza de Vaca won the 2016 elections and belongs to the opposition National Action Party, or PAN, the party said in a statement Monday.
Yarrington's long-cold trail finally led to Italy, where he was detained Sunday in Florence. Alberto Elias Beltran, the chief Mexican prosecutor in charge of extraditions, said Yarrington was found carrying false documents suggesting he was living under a fake name. Elias Beltran said both Mexican and U.S. prosecutors had provided intelligence information that lead to the arrest and that both Mexico and the U.S. have requested Yarrington be extradited. Italy will decide which country he is sent to.
In a statement, the PRI praised the arrest, but acknowledged it had taken the party four years to expel him after the allegations first surfaced.
Yarrington is the first of a triumvirate of PRI fugitive governors accused of corruption to be arrested.
The other two are Cesar Duarte and Javier Duarte — no relation — the ex-governors of Chihuahua and Veracruz states, respectively. Both supposedly have international detention notices, but despite being very well-known and recognizable figures, no trace of them has been seen since they left office last year.
But few well-known politicians have been on the lam as long as Yarrington, who allegedly took bribes from the Gulf and Zetas cartels to allow them to operate in his state. In the ensuing years, the gangs essentially took over Tamaulipas, killing thousands of people, instituting a reign of terror of widespread kidnapping and extortion. The state was left littered with mass graves and burned-out homes.
Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the key to catching Yarrington came when authorities traced phone calls he made to his family in Mexico.