MEXICO CITY - Authorities are trying to arrest the embattled former governor of Veracruz state who is under investigation for alleged money laundering and participation in organized crime, but his whereabouts are unknown, Mexico's attorney general said Wednesday.
Attorney General Arely Gomez said Duarte is part of a group of nine people who are all being sought on similar charges. Two women among them were arrested Tuesday.
A federal official who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity said they were "fronts" for Duarte and helped him launder money.
Duarte stepped down as governor Oct. 12, a month and a half before his term was supposed to end. At the time, he said he wanted to confront the corruption allegations, which he denies.
Duarte is a member of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. In September, the PRI restricted his party rights and its justice commission released a statement late Wednesday saying that it had agreed "to resolve with the necessary immediacy the process of expulsion."
Prosecutors have opened at least two investigations targeting the ex-governor for possible illegal enrichment, embezzlement and breach of public duty.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told Radio Formula earlier Wednesday that officials do not know where Duarte is but believe he is in the country because immigration authorities have no record of him departing.
Still, he said federal prosecutors were preparing a request for Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant if he does leave. Duarte was last seen in the state capital of Xalapa, Osorio Chong added.
"Security agencies are working to locate him," he said.
Critics say vast sums of state funds disappeared during the nearly six years Duarte led Veracruz, which has been plagued by rising drug gang violence as the Zetas and Jalisco New Generation cartels war for control in the Gulf Coast state.
A least 16 journalists were killed in Veracruz during Duarte's time in office, and hundreds of people have disappeared.
In June, the PRI lost the Veracruz governorship for the first time since the party was founded over eight decades ago.
Osorio Chong, appearing later together with Gomez, denied that the government allowed Duarte to slip away.
"How strange that today it is being suggested that there was an agreement when it was precisely the government of (President) Enrique Pena Nieto that initiated the process," Osorio Chong said.
Veracruz Gov.-elect Miguel Angel Yunes accuses Duarte of looting the state government and campaigned on promises to hold him accountable.
"Javier Duarte departs with his pockets full and leaves a Veracruz on fire," Yunes said.
In August, Duarte expressed willingness to co-operate with prosecutors and travelled to Mexico City to make his own corruption allegations against Yunes.
Prosecutors are also hunting for former Sonora state Gov. Guillermo Padres, of the conservative National Action Party, on suspicion of corruption.