MEXICO CITY – Emilio Lozoya, former chief executive officer of Mexican state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), has been arrested in the southern Spanish city of Malaga on corruption charges, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said on Wednesday.
The 45-year-old Lozoya became a fugitive, with whereabouts unknown, after the AG’s office accused him of receiving more than $10 million in bribes from Brazilian engineering company Odebrecht and playing a pivotal role in the irregular purchase of a fertilizer plant that had been out of service for a decade.
In statements to Mexico City-based Radio Formula, Attorney General Alejandro Gertz said the arrest was the culmination of a probe carried out in different parts of Europe and expressed appreciation for the support of Interpol and the Spanish police, which eventually arrested the suspect.
He added that the warrant for Lozoya’s arrest had been issued for the purpose of extradition.
Gertz described the Lozoya case as “iconic,” noting that he had been arrested after a nearly year-long investigation spanning different European countries.
For his part, Lozoya’s attorney, Javier Coello, told Milenio Television that following confirmation of the arrest he will now travel to Spain to assist his client.
“We have all the evidence (needed) to defend him,” the lawyer said, adding that both he and Lozoya’s family were unaware of the arrest until the AG’s office announced it.
Lozoya, who denies the charges, served as Pemex’s CEO from 2012-2016, during then-President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration.
An economist with extensive international experience and a member of a politically connected family in Mexico, Lozoya is one of many powerful Latin American figures in the public and private sectors to be implicated in the Odebrecht scandal.
After Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office on December 2018 in part due to his pledge to fight corruption, his AG’s office pushed forward with an investigation into Lozoya and secured an Interpol Red Notice for his arrest in May 2019.
Last year, Lozoya was barred from holding public office for 10 years by the Public Service Secretariat, a decision later upheld in court on Feb. 6.
The Finance Secretariat also froze the ex-CEO’s bank accounts.
In 2017, Brazilian daily O Globo and Mexico’s El Quinto Elemento Lab reported that Luis Alberto Meneses Weyll, the former top Odebrecht executive in Mexico, said that Lozoya asked him for $5 million in March 2012 “as payment for having helped position the company in Veracruz,” a Mexican Gulf state home to numerous oil facilities.
The Brazilian construction company ended up paying a total of $10 million in bribes to Lozoya to win a $115 million contract to modernize a refinery, O Globo reported.
Lozoya also is accused in connection with Pemex’s acquisition in 2013 of a fertilizer plant from Altos Hornos de Mexico, a steelmaker whose chairman, Alonso Ancira, was arrested last May in Mallorca, Spain, on a warrant requested by the Mexican AG’s office, and is currently fighting extradition.
Odebrecht and its petrochemical unit, Braskem, reached a settlement in December 2016 with the United States’ Department of Justice in which they pleaded guilty to paying hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes to government officials around the world.
The companies agreed to pay a combined total penalty of at least $3.5 billion to resolve charges with authorities in the United States, Brazil and Switzerland arising out of those schemes.
As part of the settlement, Odebrecht has been cooperating with prosecutors in the affected countries to bring corrupt officials to justice.