The ruling party here suffered a major blow just 24 hours after changing its national leadership, as Mexico’s attorney general announced he will subpoena state party leaders in Tabasco on charges that they spent far in excess of legal limits to win disputed elections in November.
Atty. Gen. Antonio Lozano indicated that his investigators have documented opposition charges that the equivalent of $65 million was deposited in and withdrawn from Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, accounts during the campaign. Lozano said the state party officials will be asked to explain the movement of such large amounts of cash. Their legal spending limit for that race was $1.1 million.
On Sunday, Lozano rejected claims by Tabasco’s ruling party governor of a link between the campaign-financing probe and the governor’s alleged kidnaping near the nation’s capital Friday.
Gov. Roberto Madrazo, who has asserted that he was held and beaten by federal agents for seven hours, denied any financial wrongdoing at a Monday news conference. He and other party leaders accused Lozano--a member of the opposition--of political partisanship, and they vowed to file charges of illegal prosecution against him.
But Lozano’s announcement of the federal summons appeared to further tarnish the ruling party’s image. It also presented Santiago Onate, the PRI’s new national president, with his first potential internal conflict just two days into his term.
Onate, who was replaced Monday as Mexico’s labor secretary by veteran bureaucrat Javier Bonilla, had no immediate comment on the Tabasco case.
But analysts said the career politician most likely will be forced to choose between supporting Tabasco party hard-liners--known here as “dinosaurs"--and reformist factions trying to end electoral abuses by the PRI.
The conflict in Tabasco is explosive. In January, the state PRI leadership rose up in open rebellion against President Ernesto Zedillo’s government. Two days of sometimes violent street protests erupted at the mere hint that federal officials were negotiating Madrazo’s resignation in response to opposition charges that the PRI had won the gubernatorial campaign through fraud.
The revolt ended when the party’s national leadership and key Cabinet secretaries backed Madrazo. Zedillo added his personal support for the governor in a May speech in Tabasco.
Just four weeks after that endorsement, a mountain of evidence surfaced in the capital that appeared to back opposition charges. Delivered anonymously in 16 cardboard boxes to opposition leaders staging a protest in downtown Mexico City, the documents included bank statements and invoices showing that a total of 237 million pesos--then about $65 million--moved through PRI campaign accounts in Tabasco.
Leaders of the populist Democratic Revolutionary Party turned over the evidence to the attorney general’s office.