Mexico's president backs probe of opposition governor candidates

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

(Corrects in last paragraph that Garcia, not De La Garza, led Reforma’s poll, and that de la Garza was ahead of Clara Flores by 11 points, not 10)

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday he supported the Mexican attorney general office’s criminal investigation of two leading gubernatorial candidates, after the opposition said the probe was politically motivated.

Adrian de la Garza from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is being investigated for vote buying and Samuel Garcia from the Citizen Movement party on allegations of suspect campaign financing ahead of June 6 elections, the attorney general’s office, known as FGR, said in a statement on Monday.

De la Garza is being investigated for courting the female vote with an electronic “pink card”, which allows voters to withdraw money “once the candidate wins the election”, FGR said in a statement.

The candidates for the governorship of the industrial northern state of Nuevo Leon have denied wrongdoing.

“I support the attorney general’s decision,” Lopez Obrador said at a regular news conference.

“It’s an electoral crime, a candidate handing out cards, taking advantage of people in need, disguised and shameless vote buying,” he said.

Lopez Obrador highlighted the card scheme last week, before the investigation was announced, and criticized electoral authorities for not acting.

Opposition politicians said the investigations showed a lack of independence by the attorney general’s office.

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Garcia said the only thing he was guilty of was holding a strong lead over the ruling party rival in opinion polls. De la Garza called the investigation “political persecution.”

Citizen Movement, in a statement, “demanded that Lopez Obrador get his hands out of the election in Nuevo Leon.”

The border state is seen as one of the most prized gubernatorial seats up for grabs in June. Fifteen of Mexico’s 32 states will elect a new governor.

Garcia and de la Garza are 16 and 11 points ahead of Clara Flores, the candidate from the ruling MORENA party of Lopez Obrador, according to an opinion poll in the Reforma newspaper.

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