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Former election opponent of Mexico’s president flees country

August 23, 2021 GMT
FILE -  In this July 1, 2018 file photo, presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya speaks with the media after the general elections in Mexico City. Anaya said Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, that has been called to appear in court, calling it political persecution and saying he will stay out of Mexico. (AP Photo/Christian Palma, File)
FILE - In this July 1, 2018 file photo, presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya speaks with the media after the general elections in Mexico City. Anaya said Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, that has been called to appear in court, calling it political persecution and saying he will stay out of Mexico. (AP Photo/Christian Palma, File)
FILE - In this July 1, 2018 file photo, presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya speaks with the media after the general elections in Mexico City. Anaya said Monday, Aug. 23, 2021, that has been called to appear in court, calling it political persecution and saying he will stay out of Mexico. (AP Photo/Christian Palma, File)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Former presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya, who was one of several unsuccessful aspirants for Mexico’s top office in the 2018 elections, has fled the country, claiming that charges against him are politically motivated.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador denied Monday that the government is persecuting Anaya. The president said the charges stem from accusations by a former official that legislators like Anaya were paid off to vote for the country’s energy overhaul in 2013 and 2014..

Anaya, a former congressman who was the presidential candidate of the conservative National Action Party, said in a video posted on social media over the weekend that he was leaving Mexico. He did not say where he was going, but said he feared being jailed for 30 years on the charges.

“In the era of autocrats like López Obrador, exile is the only alternative to continue fighting,” Anaya said. “Allowing yourself to be jailed by an autocrat often means losing the battle.”

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Anaya had been criticized in the past for his long sojourns in the United States. He had recently been touring Mexico in an apparent bid to ignite another run for the presidency in 2024.

López Obrador has never liked Anaya much. The two sparred angrily in debates for the 2018 election, with López Obrador dubbing Anaya with a nickname that means “little rich kid.” But the president denied Monday that the charges were a political vendetta, calling that “a lie, a falsehood.”

However, many Mexicans have expressed concern that the ex-official who has accused Anaya and others of accepting bribes has himself been allowed to stay out of prison for alleged corruption because he agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Some fear Emilio Lozoya, the former head of the state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, may avoid prosecution in exchange for smearing the president’s opponents.

Lozoya has acknowledged bribery, but said he was ordered to commit the offenses during the 2012-2018 administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.