Federal prosecutors in Mexico said Wednesday that an opposition politician who fled the country over the weekend allegedly took a $525,000 bribe.
The Attorney General’s Office outlined the accusation that led it to try to obtain an arrest warrant fort former presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya.
Anaya ran for the conservative National Action Party in the 2018 presidential election, which was won by Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, and he has been contemplating a second bid. Anaya says he is the victim of political persecution.
Prosecutors said evidence indicates the former head of the state-owned oil company, Emilio Lozoya, had received bribe money from the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Lozoya has told prosecutors he gave $525,000 to Anaya, then a legislator, in 2014 to vote in favor of an energy reform bill that opened the industry to the private sector.
Anaya said in a video posted on social media over the weekend that he was leaving Mexico. He did not say where he was going, but said he feared being jailed for 30 years on the charges.
“In the era of autocrats like López Obrador, exile is the only alternative to continue fighting,” Anaya said. “Allowing yourself to be jailed by an autocrat often means losing the battle.”
Anaya had been criticized in the past for his long sojourns in the United States He had recently been touring Mexico in an apparent bid to ignite another run for the presidency in 2024.
López Obrador denied Monday that the government is persecuting Anaya, but has never liked him much. The two sparred angrily in debates for the 2018 election, with López Obrador dubbing Anaya with a nickname that means “little rich kid.”
The president said accusations that the charges are a political vendetta are “a lie, a falsehood.”
However, many Mexicans have expressed concern that Lozoya, the ex-official who has accused Anaya and others of accepting bribes, has himself been allowed to stay out of prison for alleged corruption because he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Some fear Lozoya, the former head of Petroleos Mexicanos, may avoid prosecution in exchange for smearing the president’s opponents.
Lozoya has acknowledged bribery, but said he was ordered to commit the offenses during the 2012-2018 administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.
On Wednesday, Anaya posted another video, claiming that López Obrador is using Lozoya to attack him.
“The accusations against me are your invention, put in the mouth of Lozoya,” Anaya said, referring to the president.