Former Mexican senator hit with criminal charges tied to energy reform

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican prosecutors on Tuesday filed criminal charges against a former senator who under the previous government helped to pass a major energy reform which President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has attacked as tainted by corruption.

Prosecutors charged Jorge Lavalle, a senator with the center-right National Action Party (PAN) during the 2012-2018 administration, with criminal association, bribery and using illicit funds, judicial authorities said.

Lavalle was closely involved in crafting constitutional changes in the Senate for reforms which opened up Mexico's energy market to private capital between 2013 and 2014.

Lopez Obrador, who took office in 2018, casts the reform as an attempt by corrupt politicians and private interests to carve up state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and national power firm the Comision Federal de Electricidad (CFE).

The leftist Lopez Obrador is a staunch defender of Pemex and the CFE, and has set about trying to walk back the reform.

Former Pemex boss Emilio Lozoya, who is facing corruption charges, claims the former government ran a scheme to channel bribes through him to buy votes for the energy reform. Leading officials of the last government have denied this.

In a deposition leaked last year, Lozoya said that Lavalle was among a group of PAN lawmakers who demanded kickbacks in exchange for their vote.

Lavalle has repeatedly denied allegations of wrongdoing and described Lozoya's accusations as lies.

"It's absurd to think I received some kind of perk or bribe in exchange for my vote," he said in December.

Lavalle's attorneys could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Ricardo Monreal, the Senate leader of Lopez Obrador's ruling National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), said on Twitter that if it turned out that the energy reform was approved due to bribery, it should be repealed or legally reversed.

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Daina Beth Solomon; Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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