Guatemala to extradite fugitive ex-governor to Mexico

Guatemala City (AFP) - Guatemala will extradite Mexican ex-governor Javier Duarte to face racketeering and money-laundering charges after he told a court Tuesday he wanted to return home to clear his name.

Duarte is known for presiding over an explosion of violence and human rights abuses in the eastern state of Veracruz from 2010 to 2016, when he abruptly resigned and went into hiding.

Arrested at a lakeside resort in Guatemala in April, he accepted extradition and proclaimed his innocence on federal corruption charges Tuesday.

"I did not commit these crimes, and I wish to prove so before the judicial authorities in my country," he said.

The judge ruled Duarte could now be extradited, after the ex-governor also accepted extradition on separate state corruption charges last week.

Authorities said they expected him to be sent back to Mexico in about two weeks.

Duarte is one of six Mexican ex-governors under arrest for corruption, fraud, money laundering or racketeering.

Guatemalan prosecutors accused him of involvement in organized crime and a "complex scheme" of illegal financial transactions.

They presented evidence from Mexican investigators that he set up shell companies, made dodgy real estate deals and bough a yacht in the United States.

Duarte's lawyer, Carlos Velasquez, called the case against his client "political persecution."

Duarte, a portly 43-year-old with a bushy beard, was slightly more restrained than at his last court appearance a week ago.

Then, he grinned for the cameras and told journalists outside the court, "My Uber is here.... Don't trip over yourselves, I'll go slowly so you can take my picture."

This time, he recited an impromptu poem on the virtues of "verbal continence" -- leaving many scratching their heads in Mexico, where the hearing was broadcast live on TV.

Under Duarte, a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), violent crime skyrocketed in Veracruz.

The state became one of the most violent in Mexico, registering more than 4,500 murders -- including those of 21 journalists -- and more than 200 disappearances.

The scandals involving Mexican ex-governors led to the PRI losing five governorships last year, and have badly damaged the party heading into presidential elections next year.