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U.S. seizes Texas condo it says owned by former Mexican governor

MCALLEN, Texas (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge said the government has seized a luxury Texas condominium purportedly owned by a fugitive former Mexican governor wanted on suspicion of aiding drug traffickers, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors for the southern district of Texas say the $640,000 condominium on South Padre Island is owned by the former governor of Tamaulipas state, Tomas Yarrington, also the former national leader of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Prosecutors allege that the property was purchased with money that came from Mexican drug traffickers.

Yarrington served as governor of Tamaulipas from 1999 to 2004 and unsuccessfully ran for president in 2005. Before that, he was mayor of Matamoros, the U.S.-Mexican border hometown of the Gulf Cartel, once one of that country's dominant drug-trafficking gangs.

In June, Yarrington denied the allegations against him in the United States, although he has still not come forward to face a warrant issued for his arrest in Mexico in August.

Senior PRI politicians say in private Yarrington could end up behind bars to show the party is serious about fighting corruption.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos granted the government's motion to take full possession of the condo, sell it and pay off taxes and homeowners' association fees owed, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a news release.

The government expects to sell the property at a public auction "in the near future."

A civil forfeiture complaint alleges that Napoleon Rodriguez, a business associate of Yarrington, made a straw purchase of the condo in 1998 so the politician would avoid attention from U.S. authorities.

Court records show Yarrington began investing millions from drug trafficking kickbacks in various properties in Mexico and Texas after he left public office, prosecutors said.

Rodriguez is currently in custody in Mexico.

The case against Yarrington, who was suspended in May from the PRI, emerged ahead of Mexico's presidential election in July as the centrist party attempted to shed its reputation for graft.

The PRI ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000, and returned to power earlier this month after the election of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Pena Nieto has vowed to fight organized crime and end the drug violence that claimed more than 60,000 lives during the term of former president Felipe Calderon.

(Reporting by Jared Taylor; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Eric Walsh)

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