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U.S. court charges two ex-officials in Mexico's PRI with fraud

By Jared Taylor

(Reuters) - A U.S. court has charged two ex-officials from Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) with fraud, theft and illegal transfer of funds, after U.S. authorities seized millions of dollars the men are believed to have stolen.

The four-count indictment in U.S. District Court in Texas against Hector Javier Villarreal, former finance secretary in Coahuila state, and Jorge Torres, an ex-interim governor, which was unsealed on Wednesday, marks the first criminal charges in the United States against the pair.

Both men served in the 2005-2011 Coahuila government of Humberto Moreira, who was an ally of President Enrique Pena Nieto before he won the presidential election of 2012.

Moreira gave way to Torres as governor to become chairman of the PRI while the party was still in opposition. But he stepped down in disgrace at the end of 2011 after it was revealed he had left Coahuila badly in debt.

Villarreal and Torres are suspected of laundering more than $2 million each to bank accounts in Bermuda and lying about where the money came from, Kenneth Magidson, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said in a statement.

U.S. prosecutors accuse the men of using bank accounts in Texas to funnel embezzled funds to Bermuda.

The men's whereabouts are unknown to U.S. authorities.

Villarreal has been fugitive for more than a year and half. Torres, who was also once Coahuila's finance secretary, has denied the accusations against him via the media.

Coahuila's debt ballooned to more than 34 billion pesos ($2.60 billion) by the time Moreira left office. He later moved to Spain after his son was shot dead by suspected members of the brutal Zetas drug cartel.

In February, U.S. authorities seized $2.2 million from a Bermuda bank account controlled by Villarreal.

More than seven months later, prosecutors asked a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, to seize some $2.8 million from another Bermuda account they said was held by Torres.

Authorities believe the accounts contained money stolen from the coffers of Coahuila state.

The November 20 indictment against Villarreal, which was unsealed on Wednesday, charges him with conspiring to launder monetary instruments, bank fraud and mail fraud.

Torres, whom authorities accuse of working with Villarreal to funnel out the money, also faces the conspiracy and bank fraud charges, as well as a charge of wire fraud.

If convicted of bank fraud, the most severe charge, each man faces up to 30 years in prison and large fines. ($1 = 13.0805 Mexican pesos)

(Editing by Dave Graham, Simon Gardner and Leslie Adler)

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