Ex-official seized in Mexico corruption case

Michael Weissenstein, Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The former treasurer of the state of Tabasco has been arrested on the U.S. border on suspicion of helping embezzle millions of dollars from state coffers, officials said Sunday, in a case that's grabbed headlines in Mexico with allegations of extravagant personal spending by corrupt officials.

A Mexican official speaking on condition of anonymity said Jose Saiz was detained Saturday after he attempted to cross from the city of Reynosa, on the border with McAllen, Texas.

Saiz's attorney, Xavier Olea, confirmed the arrest in comments to Mexican media. Calls to Olea's office went unanswered Sunday.

State prosecutors said last month that they found 88.5 million pesos, about $7 million in cash, in an office used by Saiz, who served under former Gov. Andres Granier of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI. The state's current governor, Gov. Arturo Nunez, of the opposition Democratic Revolution Party, has accused his predecessor of plunging the state into debt by squandering and embezzling millions of dollars. Those claims have been strengthened by reports of extravagant spending by Granier and his inner circle, who have become subjects of a federal investigation.

The case made national headlines after Granier was secretly recorded boasting about owning hundreds of suits and pairs of shoes and about shopping exclusively at Beverly Hills luxury stores.

After the recording was leaked to the press, Granier said he had been idly boasting because he was drunk and his claims weren't true. He hasn't been charged with any crime.

A Tabasco newspaper printed photos this month of Saiz posing with a Ferrari sports car worth several hundred thousand dollars, many times more than his annual state salary. One of Saiz's lawyers confirmed that he owned the car, but said he had bought it before taking state office with the earnings from highly profitable private businesses. Saiz's legal team has not provided details on his private business dealings.

The federal Attorney General's Office has opened an investigation into Granier's handling of public funds, and Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong pledged that the government would not give him favorable treatment.

The PRI governed Mexico for 71 years in which it was widely criticized for corruption and authoritarian practices. It lost the presidency for the first time in 2000 but returned to power on Dec. 1 with the election of former Mexico state governor Enrique Pena Nieto, who has said he will not stand for illegality.

Many Mexican politicians and union leaders openly flaunt multi-million dollar properties, luxury cars and high-end clothes that would be out of reach on a public salary.

Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of the powerful teachers union, was arrested in February on charges of diverting millions of dollars of funds from the organization for her personal use.

"The Teacher," as she is known, was widely photographed wearing designer clothes and handbags worth thousands of dollars. She built her political career with the Institutional Revolutionary Party but fell afoul of Pena Nieto's administration after pledging to fight education reform.