Former Mexican state governor pleads guilty in U.S. to money laundering

(Reuters) – A former governor of the Mexican state of Coahuila has pleaded guilty to charges that he laundered money to conceal bribes paid to him in return for road-building contracts, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

Jorge Torres, who served as interim governor of the northern border state for most of 2011, was arrested in Mexico early last year and extradited to the United States in October to face trial in federal court for the Southern District of Texas.

Torres governed the state, which borders Texas, for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which dominated Mexico’s political landscape for the best part of a century.

U.S. prosecutors in Texas charged Torres and Hector Javier Villarreal, a former Coahuila finance minister, with fraud, theft and illegal transfer of funds in 2013.

Torres entered a guilty plea for his part in a money laundering scheme that included offenses against a foreign nation involving bribery of a public official, U.S. Attorney Ryan Patrick said in a statement issued by the DOJ.

Torres faces up to 20 years in prison and a possible $500,000 fine. As part of his plea, he agreed to forfeit property in the United States linked to the bribes, the DOJ said.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos has set Torres’ sentencing for Sept. 10, the statement said.

Villarreal has also been convicted in the Southern and Western Districts of Texas for money laundering offenses and is likewise awaiting sentencing, it added.

The PRI, which governed Mexico from 1929-2000 and again from 2012-2018, suffered a crushing defeat in the last election at the hands of veteran leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador after a series of damaging corruption scandals.

Lopez Obrador, who took office as president in December 2018, has vowed to root out political corruption in Mexico.

Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Leslie Adler

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