MEXICO CITY – A former Mexican governor accused by U.S. federal prosecutors of helping smuggle 200 tons of Colombian cocaine while in office was arrested here early Thursday for possible extradition to the United States.
If the extradition is successful, Mario Villanueva would be the highest-ranking former Mexican official to stand trial in a U.S. court. He’s accused in a 2001 federal indictment of conspiring with drug gang leaders to transport tons of cocaine bound for sale north of the border. The former governor, who already has served six years in Mexican prisons on money laundering charges, could face a life sentence if convicted of drug trafficking offenses in the United States.
Villanueva, 58, earned $500,000 for each cocaine shipment moved by the so-called Juarez cartel during the mid-1990s, according to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in New York.
After his 1993 election, Villanueva’s Gulf state of Quintana Roo blossomed as a key cocaine transshipment point and reportedly earned the politician as much as $30 million in bribes for providing broad protection to smugglers.