MEXICO CITY -- The political party expected to win Mexico's upcoming presidential election sought Wednesday to distance itself from a former high-ranking official embroiled in a drug-trafficking and money-laundering scandal.
Tomas Yarrington, a former governor of the border state of Tamaulipas from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has been accused in U.S. federal court papers of receiving millions of dollars from drug gangs. He allegedly used the money to buy property in Mexico and Texas.
U.S. prosecutors Tuesday filed two civil forfeiture cases that are aimed at confiscation of some of the properties.
Yarrington has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing. His attorney, Joel Androphy, told Mexico's Milenio TV on Wednesday that he suspected other defendants, attempting to save themselves, had pointed fingers at Yarrington.
But the PRI, in the middle of an election campaign that probably will return it to presidential power after more than a decade, apparently decided enough was enough. Though the accusations have circulated for months, the party Wednesday issued a statement (link in Spanish) saying Yarrington would have to face authorities and clear up the charges. Until then, his party membership was suspended.
For the PRI, whose presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto leads all polls ahead of the July 1 vote, the allegations threatened to summon the ghosts of the party's often dark, corrupt past, as Mexico City correspondent Ken Ellingwood reported this year.
The "allegations of drug payoffs to a former PRI governor have shoved the party's often-shady legacy to the forefront of the campaign, reminding voters of the sort of graft that marked the party's rule before it was booted in 2000 after seven decades of near-absolute control," he wrote.
Mexico's vast drug-trafficking industry took off under the PRI, frequently with the help of corrupt officials.
Yarrington served from 1999 to 2004 as governor of Tamaulipas, considered the home base of the formidable Gulf cartel.
Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate, echoed his party's statement calling Yarrington to task. But he also raised the oft-stated PRI suspicion that the scandal might have political motivations.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: A 2010 photo shows Tomas Yarrington sportfishing at an unknown location. Credit: tomasyarrington.org