04/19/2017 17:48 EDT | Updated 04/21/2017 08:43 EDT

Captured Mexican ex-governor appears in Guatemala court

GUATEMALA CITY — A Mexican fugitive ex-governor who became a powerful symbol of alleged corruption in his country appeared Wednesday before a Guatemalan court that will consider his possible extradition.

Former Veracruz state Gov. Javier Duarte arrived at the tribunal in a police van that was mobbed by reporters, whose shouted questions he declined to answer. He emerged wearing a bulletproof vest over a plaid shirt, was escorted inside and consulted with his lawyers.

The 43-year-old Duarte was arrested Saturday night at a hotel in Panajachel, a lakeside tourist town in Guatemala's highlands, six months after he abruptly resigned and dropped out of sight.

In the past, he has denied accusations he ran a ring that allegedly stole millions of dollars from government coffers. He also denied last year that he controlled any overseas accounts or ill-gotten property.

Guatemalan prosecutors read out a lengthy detailing of the Mexican government's extradition request alleging that Duarte used shell companies and front people to illicitly acquire property and assets.

"While you were governor you organized a complex scheme to introduce resources into the Mexican financial system pretending it was the product of the sale of land in Campeche," prosecutor Jose Galdamez said, addressing Duarte.

Duarte declined to either accept or appeal extradition for now until he is presented with a formal petition, which the Mexican government has 60 days to file. The court ordered that he remain in custody meanwhile.

Duarte did not comment while exiting the hearing.

"I have faith in justice," said Pablo Camposano de la Mora, a Mexican lawyer representing him.

Duarte has also been widely criticized for rampant drug cartel-fueled violence in Veracruz during his nearly six-year administration, a period during which at least 16 journalists were killed in the state.

Also Wednesday, U.S. and Mexican authorities announced an agreement to prosecute Tomas Yarrington, another former Mexican governor who was detained recently in Italy, in the United States first and then in Mexico if his extradition is approved.

"The United States and Mexican governments have agreed to request that the Italian Minister of Justice grant precedence to the United States' request and also to seek the authorization ... for the re-extradition of Yarrington to Mexico," the two countries' attorneys general said in a joint statement.

It added that at the conclusion of the U.S. prosecution of Yarrington, he would be "temporarily surrendered to Mexico so that he may be brought to justice for the offences charged against him there."

Yarrington was governor of the Gulf coast state of Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas, from 1999 to 2004. Mexico wants him on charges of money laundering and organized crime, and the United States accuses him of receiving millions of dollars in bribes from the Gulf drug cartel while in office.

Yarrington, Duarte and Cesar Duarte — a third fugitive ex-governor, from the northern border state of Chihuahua, who is also wanted for alleged corruption — were all members of President Enrique Pena Nieto's governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The two Duartes are not related.

The PRI, which controlled Mexico's presidency and nearly all state and local government for seven decades until a historic election defeat in 2000, has sought to distance itself from the disgraced politicians ahead of a June gubernatorial election in the State of Mexico, the country's largest by population.

Pena Nieto was governor of Mexico state before running for president in 2012, and his successor is also a PRI politician. Recent polls have shown it to be a closely contested race.

Earlier Wednesday, Mexican prosecutors announced that a man was arrested in Spain in connection with the corruption case against Javier Duarte and that the government will seek his extradition. Mexican media reports identified him as an accountant.


Associated Press writer Sonia Perez D. reported this story in Guatemala City and AP writer Peter Orsi reported from Mexico City.