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Former Mexican state treasurer target of U.S. money: laundering probe

By Jared Taylor

MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - Investigators have moved to seize millions in assets from a former Mexican state treasurer and fugitive under investigation for money laundering and engaging in organized criminal activity in the United States, authorities said on Monday.

Hector Javier Villarreal, the former state treasurer in Mexico's Coahuila state, is under investigation by the Texas Attorney General's Office, Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Administration for money laundering and engaging in organized criminal activity, said Tom Kelley, spokesman for the state's attorney general.

Villarreal is considered a fugitive with an Interpol warrant filed in Mexico, Kelley said. His whereabouts remain unknown. The state of Coahuila covers a vast expanse of arid desert south of the Rio Grande from western Texas.

No criminal indictment has been filed against Villarreal, but court documents show $6.5 million in assets, which Texas prosecutors have moved to seize, Kelley said.

Kelley said the Texas Attorney General's Office was asked to lead the investigation. An IRS spokeswoman could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Villarreal was treasurer in Coahuila state when it was governed by Humberto Moreira, an ally of Enrique Pena Nieto, presidential candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and hot favorite to win the July 1 election.

Moreira governed the northern state between 2005 and 2011 and then became PRI chairman. However, his term as chairman was cut short by a scandal over the state's finances.

Last August it emerged that Moreira had presided over a huge increase in Coahuila's debt, which more than tripled to nearly 34 billion pesos ($2.61 billion) by the end of his term.

The finance ministry launched an investigation into suspected financial wrongdoing in Coahuila, increasing pressure on Moreira, and he quit as PRI chairman in December.

Analysts say a money laundering scandal could hurt Pena Nieto and the PRI, which had become a byword for corruption by the time the party's 71-year rule in Mexico ended in 2000.

Josefina Vazquez Mota, presidential candidate of the ruling National Action Party (PAN) said after media reports began circulating about Villarreal's alleged wrongdoing this weekend that the PRI had to "explain its complicity with criminals."

(Reporting by Jared Taylor; Additional reporting by Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by David Bailey and Eric Walsh)

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