Mexico prosecutors open probe into personal wealth of ex-minister

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo gestures during a news conference at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, Mexico May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -The Mexican attorney general's office said on Friday it had launched a criminal investigation into suspected illicit enrichment by former Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, a senior official in the previous administration.

Guajardo, who was in charge of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) driven by former U.S. President Donald Trump, dismissed the accusation as an act of political persecution for his criticism of the government.

The attorney general's office said prosecutors believed that during the period 2014-2018 Guajardo's wealth had probably increased to a degree that could not be accounted for legally.

In a statement published online, Guajardo rejected the "unjust accusation", and said he would clear his name.

A member of the centrist opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Guajardo is due to re-enter Congress when the new lower house convenes in September.

A judge ordered Guajardo not to leave the country without judicial authorization and to report to authorities at regular intervals, the attorney general's office said.

Guajardo said the attorney general's office also wanted to stop him from taking the oath of office as a member of Congress but that the judge did not grant this. The attorney general's office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Guajardo told local radio prosecutors were looking into around 9 million pesos ($452,265), including a painting he had acquired, and a transfer of around $300,000 from his brother.

The former minister said he had registered the painting in a public declaration of assets at a time later than the year he bought it, because it had not yet been delivered.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has relentlessly sought to vilify the previous Mexican administration, accusing it of fomenting inequality, corruption and gang violence.

($1 = 19.8998 Mexican pesos)

(Reporting by Sharay Angulo and Raul Cortes; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Sandra Maler)

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