MADRID – A former chief executive officer of Mexican state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) wanted in his homeland on corruption charges was ordered jailed on Thursday in Spain by a National Court judge.
The judge took a statement from Emilio Lozoya via videoconference – he still has not been transferred to Madrid since his arrest Wednesday in the southern city of Malaga – and then ordered him jailed on the grounds he poses a flight risk.
Mexican authorities, who now have 45 days to submit their formal extradition request, accuse him of “operations with resources of illicit origin” and say he defrauded the government of approximately $280 million.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was elected in 2018 in part due to his pledge to fight corruption, said Thursday he was confident that Lozoya would be extradited to his homeland.
“I think so because the Attorney General’s Office is doing its job very well. I remind you that it’s an autonomous institution … What we want is to uproot corruption in Mexico, and this is being done within a legal framework,” he said at his daily press conference at Mexico City’s National Palace.
The 45-year-old Lozoya, who was being sought under an Interpol Red Notice for allegedly accepting bribes from scandal-plagued Brazilian multinational engineering and construction company Odebrecht, was Pemex’s CEO from 2012 to 2016, during the administration of Mexico’s then-president, Enrique Peña Nieto.
A fugitive since May of last year, Lozoya was arrested Wednesday by Spain’s National Police near an upscale residential development in the Costa del Sol region.
Lozoya, who refused to be handed over to Mexico, said he had arrived in Spain just two days ago.
The National Police, however, said the suspect had been located in Malaga province at the beginning of this year after a months-long joint investigation with Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office.
The judge also said in his order that at the time of the arrest Lozoya was riding in a taxi with a forged ID that contained his photograph but the name of another person, “which suggests an intent to evade justice.”
In accordance with Spanish extradition law, Lozoya will be held in preventive detention during the 45-day period allowed for Mexican authorities to deliver their extradition request.
Lozoya is accused of leading a corruption network that received bribes from Odebrecht between 2012 and 2013, according to Spain’s National Police.
Spain’s National Police said it began cooperating with Mexico’s AG’s office after Lozoya went on the run, adding that they found evidence of Lozoya’s presence in different Spanish cities but that the suspect’s high purchasing power and international connections made it difficult to locate him.
The international arrest warrant issued by Mexico stated that Lozoya acquired a property despite knowing that the funds used to purchase it were of illicit origin and did so for the purpose of hiding the origin of that money.
The warrant said he carried out that money-laundering scheme in collaboration with two other suspects: his sister, Gilda Susana Lozoya, and the chairman of Mexican steelmaker Altos Hornos de Mexico (Ahmsa), Alonso Ancira Elizondo, who was arrested in Spain in May of last year and is fighting extradition to Mexico.
Mexican authorities also accuse Lozoya of accepting several million dollars in bribes in connection with Pemex’s 2013 purchase from Ahmsa of a fertilizer plant that had not been operational for more than a decade.
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 sprawling Odebrecht bribes-for-contracts scandal.
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.