Spanish police on Wednesday arrested Emilio Lozoya, the former chief executive of Mexico’s state oil firm Pemex, giving Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s government its first high-profile win in an anti-corruption drive that began in 2018.
Lozoya, who has not been seen publicly since the middle of last year, is accused in Mexico of corruption related to a wide-ranging bribery and money laundering case involving Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht. He has always denied wrongdoing.
His detention is a major coup for Lopez Obrador, a leftist who won power on an anti-graft platform and who has sought to paint former administration officials as members of a corrupt elite.
Lozoya, who was indicted in Mexico last year, was one of former President Enrique Pena Nieto’s closest aides, and ran Pemex from 2012 to 2016.
Lozoya was detained in the Spanish city of Malaga, the police said.
Lozoya’s lawyer, Javier Coello, said Mexico’s attorney general had requested his client’s detention over the Odebrecht case and for allegedly receiving a bribe from one of Mexico’s largest steelmakers, Altos Hornos de Mexico, or AHMSA, before he became a government official.
Coello said his client has yet to decide whether to fight extradition from Spain or return voluntarily from Mexico.
“It’s his personal decision. We have all the evidence necessary to defend him,” he told Mexican TV station Milenio.
Part of the investigation into Lozoya has been focused on money transfers that AHMSA made to a shell company allegedly set up by Odebrecht to pay bribes. That shell firm in turn allegedly sent the funds to Lozoya and his relatives.