MEXICO CITY: Mexican ex-governor Javier Duarte was extradited from Guatemala Monday to face corruption and racketeering charges, one of a string of scandals involving ex-governors that are threatening President Enrique Pena Nieto's government.
Duarte left the once-wealthy state of Veracruz on the verge of bankruptcy, allegedly diverting hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds to buy luxury properties, Miami vacation homes and thoroughbred horses.
He is also known for presiding over an explosion of violence and human rights abuses in the eastern state from 2010 to 2016, when he abruptly resigned and went into hiding.
Arrested in April at a lakeside resort in Guatemala, where he and his wife were registered under fake names and paying their bill in cash, he denies the federal and state corruption charges he faces in Mexico.
Duarte, 43, is one of six Mexican ex-governors under arrest for corruption, fraud, money laundering or racketeering.
Five of the six were members of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), including Duarte, who was expelled from the party after going on the lam.
Prosecutors accuse him of involvement in organized crime and a "complex scheme" of illegal financial transactions.
At his extradition hearings in Guatemala, they presented evidence that he set up shell companies and made dodgy real estate deals.
Duarte's lawyer, Carlos Velasquez, calls the case against his client "political persecution."
Sporting a bushy beard at his extradition hearings, the portly Duarte put on a show for journalists outside the court, grinning at the cameras and saying: "My Uber is here.... Don't trip over yourselves, I'll go slowly so you can take my picture."
He had shaved his beard and was straight-faced as police escorted him Monday in a bullet-proof vest and handcuffs to the small jet flying him back to Mexico.
The Mexican government said his extradition showed its "commitment to obtaining concrete results to fight impunity... (and) strengthen the rule of law."
Face of 'renewal'
Pena Nieto once hailed Duarte as a fresh young face for the scandal-stained PRI, the party that has ruled Mexico for 76 of the past 88 years.
In 2011, the president mentioned Duarte as one of several youthful governors who "are part of a new generation that has been part of the party's renewal."
But the former governor is now one of the most hated politicians in Mexico.
He left Veracruz more than $2.5 billion in debt, and violent crime skyrocketed during his tenure.
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.
A string of mass graves were discovered during his governorship that contained more than 300 bodies.
Guatemalan authorities had called Duarte a "highly vulnerable" prisoner, fearing that someone would try to assassinate him because he knew too much about dirty dealings in Mexico.
He was held in solitary confinement at a military base, and Guatemala had urged Mexico to complete the extradition as soon as possible.
The scandals involving Mexican ex-governors led to the PRI losing five governorships last year.
They have badly damaged the party heading into presidential elections next year.