In a surprise move, federal prosecutors in Mexico said late Monday they plan to file charges against the two leading candidates in a key governorship race in which the ruling party trails.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has complained that election regulators have tried to knock candidates of his Morena party out of governorship races.
But López Obrador risks being accused of doing the same, after the two simultaneous criminal investigations were announced with little time left before the June 6 elections.
The Attorney General’s Office said it plans to charge one candidate for the governorship of the key northern border state of Nuevo Leon with vote-buying and another with receiving illegal campaign financing.
Both are running ahead of the candidate for López Obrador’s ruling Morena party, who has been coming third in most polls after she admitted she met with Keith Raniere, the convicted leader of the NXIVM cult, which had a strong presence in Nuevo León.
While the Attorney General’s Office is supposedly independent of the president, López Obrador has appeared to make decisions for the office in the past.
Samuel Garcia, who leads in most polls and is running for the small Citizen’s Movement party, denied the Attorney General’s allegations that he, his father, wife and father-in-law had received cash donations and illegally obtained funds in his campaign.
“I have nothing to hide, no irregularity in my campaign and much less in my personal or professional life,” Garcia wrote in his Twitter account. “The only thing I am guilty of is running ahead in the polls.”
Political candidates in Mexico do not have immunity from prosecution, but arresting them during campaigns is so rare as to be almost unheard of.
The second place candidate in the race, Adrián de la Garza, is running for the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
The Attorney General’s office claimed he had engaged in vote-buying by distributing cash benefit cards that he promised could be redeemed by women voters if he wins the race.
A similar tactic was used successfully by PRI Gov. Alfredo del Mazo in Mexico State in the 2018 elections, and was ruled acceptable by courts there.
But prosecutors claimed it was illegal and equivalent to vote-buying.
De la Garza wrote in his Twitter account that “tonight confirms the political persecution that I have been a victim of, for protecting women.”
In January, López Obrador acknowledged that he made the decision to publish in full a copy of the U.S. case file against a former Mexican defense secretary that had been sent to the Attorney General’s Office, and also decided that the office should publish its own investigation of the general, despite the fact such documents are subject to official secrecy rules.
Mexico’s electoral regulatory agency drew fierce criticism from López Obrador in April after it withdrew from the ballot two Morena governorship candidates in southern Mexico, because they had not reported primary campaign spending. Both were replaced on ballots, but there would be little time left to do that in Nuevo León.