By Jose de Cordoba and Juan Montes / Wall Street Journal
One day last October, the governor of Veracruz state was scheduled to appear on a morning news program. He never showed up.
Instead, Javier Duarte disappeared, the same day authorities asked a judge for a warrant to arrest him. Many in Mexico think he was tipped off.
Duarte has since been charged with racketeering and using illegally obtained funds. Investigators believe he used front men and a web of phantom companies to divert public funds and acquire real estate in Mexico, Houston and Miami. With Veracruz state’s affairs in disarray, federal and state auditors said $2.5 billion spent by his administration was unaccounted for.
Duarte, who before vanishing denied wrongdoing in a series of media interviews, has become the public face of corruption in Mexico and an embarrassment to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. Its hopes for retaining power in elections next year are hampered by the alleged financial malfeasance not just of Duarte but of half a dozen other former state governors.
On Sunday, the acting governor who filled in after Duarte’s disappearance was detained and accused of helping him flee.
The mystery of Duarte’s disappearance has riveted Mexicans’ attention even with the strong news focus this year on issues that could affect their lives and economy: the trade and border policies of U.S. President Donald Trump. Long after those controversies have receded, many in Mexico say, their country will still need to get a handle on its deep-seated corruption problem if it is to become a fully modern country. Prince-like state governors often answerable to no one pose a continuing threat to Mexico’s economic health and struggle to establish universal rule of law, political analysts say.