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Former governor of Mexican state Veracruz Javier Duarte (C) is escorted by Guatemalan police after he was detained in a hotel in Panajachel, Guatemala 15 April 2017. REUTERS/Danilo Ramirez


By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - A former Mexican state governor on the run from police for more than five months who has come to symbolize corruption within the country's ruling party was arrested on Saturday night in Guatemala and now awaits extradition.

Javier Duarte, a former governor of Veracruz state wanted on graft and organised crime charges, was detained in a hotel lobby in the colonial town of Panajachel, about 80 miles (130 km) west of Guatemala's capital, the national police said in a statement.

Local television footage showed a calm Duarte being led by police outside the hotel on Saturday night, his hands cuffed behind his back.

He was transferred early on Sunday to the Matamoros prison in downtown Guatemala City, said government spokesman Rudy Esquivel.

The prison is known for holding drug traffickers and former Guatemalan government officials charged with corruption.

A news conference at the Mexican embassy later on Sunday was expected to clarify the extradition process Duarte faces.

Elected governor in 2010, Duarte presided over a deterioration in security in the state punctuated by the discovery of mass graves and a spate of killings of journalists during his watch.

He was also accused of carrying out various schemes with illicit resources, including using ghost companies to transfer public funds.

Lorenzo Meyer, a political scientist and historian at Mexico's National Autonomous University, said Duarte's capture would likely serve as a boost for Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, whose popularity has fallen dramatically over the past couple years.

"This is a plus for Pena Nieto because it goes against this accusation that he and (Interior Minister) Osorio Chong were really fine with Duarte fleeing, hiding and not knowing anything about him," said Meyer.

Agriculture and oil-rich Veracruz, on Mexico's Gulf coast, is one of Mexico's largest states, and it has historically been a stronghold of Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Duarte was a PRI stalwart for years until he was expelled from the PRI in October.

He resigned his position as governor that same month, a few weeks before his six-year term was due to end.

In June, the opposition National Action Party won a hotly contested race to succeed Duarte in a stinging defeat for the PRI.

An arrest warrant for Duarte was issued in October, about the same time he disappeared, and public auditors have since called his administration of state accounts among the worst cases of misappropriation of public funds in years.

(Additional reporting by Dave Graham; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Robert Birsel and Steve Orlofsky)

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