A Spanish judge placed a top former Mexican oil executive in pre-trial detention Thursday following an extradition request linked to the vast Odebrecht corruption scandal that has engulfed much of Latin America.
Emilio Lozoya, who served as chief executive of the PEMEX state oil company between 2012-2016, was arrested on Wednesday near the coastal city of Malaga in southern Spain, police said.
Lozoya is wanted in Mexico for allegedly accepting millions of dollars in bribes from Brazil’s Odebrecht, a vast construction company accused of paying almost a billion to politicians across Latin America to win lucrative contracts.
In a brief statement, Spain’s National Court said it had “placed the former head of Mexican state oil company PEMEX in pre-trial detention following an extradition request from Mexico over transactions involving illegally-sourced funds, which in Spain amounts to money laundering”.
If convicted in Mexico, he could face up to 15 years behind bars, court documents show.
Lozoya was arrested while travelling in a taxi and found to be carrying a false driving licence which suggested “an intention to flee justice”, the judge said in explaining his decision to place him in pre-trial detention.
Mexico now has 45 days to formalise its request for the extradition of Lozoya, a former aide to Enrique Pena Nieto who served as Mexican president from 2012-2018.
It is the first time a top-level Mexican executive has been arrested in connection with the massive Odebrecht scandal which has felled a string of big names in Latin American politics and industry.
Among the casualties are ex-presidents and top officials in countries including Brazil, Peru and Colombia, but there have been no arrests or prosecutions so far in Mexico.
In 2017, Lozoya was summoned to appear before Mexican prosecutors to answer allegations he took $10 million in bribes from Odebrecht to award the firm juicy contracts.
The payouts allegedly started in 2012, when he was chief international strategist for Nieto who at the time was running for president. Part of the money was allegedly used to finance Nieto’s campaign.
Lozoya is also wanted on money laundering charges over PEMEX’s acquisition in 2014 of a defunct fertilizer plant for nearly $500 million.
His partner in the deal, Alonso Ancira Elizondo, was detained on the Spanish island of Mallorca in May 2019 in connection with the affair, also on a Mexican arrest warrant.
Lozoya denies all the accusations against him.