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UPDATE 2-Arrest warrant issued for ex-Pemex CEO in Mexico anti-graft push

Ana Isabel Martinez

(Adds Ancira arrest confirmation, details of alleged bribes)

MEXICO CITY, May 28 (Reuters) - Mexico issued an arrest warrant for a former chief of Mexican oil company Pemex, government-owned media said on Tuesday, in the first blow against former President Enrique Pena Nieto's inner circle since a new government took office promising to clean up politics.

Citing sources at the attorney general's office, Mexico news agency Notimex said a judge had ordered the arrest of Emilio Lozoya, who headed Pemex from 2012 to 2016.

A Mexican security source said the reports were accurate. The attorney general's office did not respond to requests for comment.

Related to the case, Spanish police detained steel magnate Alonso Ancira on Tuesday, his company Altos Hornos de Mexico (AHMSA) said in a statement. The company sold a fertilizer plant to Pemex in 2014, while Lozoya was at the helm.

The investigation of Lozoya, who ran Pena Nieto's 2012 election campaign, is the first high-profile corruption investigation launched by the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador against the government he replaced on Dec. 1.

Lopez Obrador won election by a landslide promising to root out public sector corruption.

On Monday, the Finance Ministry said it had blocked accounts belonging to Lozoya and to AHMSA for allegedly carrying out illegal operations.

The ministry's money laundering czar Santiago Nieto said the case also had links to Brazilian builder Odebrecht, whose executives have testified about bribes to politicians across Latin America.

"Operations with possibly illicit resources linked to acts of corruption were detected, particularly transfers of financial resources deposited by Altos Hornos de Mexico in an Odebrecht phantom shell company and part of the money reached Mr. Lozoya's accounts," Nieto said on Mexican radio.

Lozoya's lawyer Javier Coello did not respond to a request for comment. Coello previously told Reuters his client did not receive bribes from AHMSA or Odebrecht and that none of Lozoyas work at Pemex has been proven to have involved corruption.


Last year, investigative news site Quinto Elemento Lab reported AHMSA paid $3.7 million to a shell company allegedly set up by Odebrecht to pay bribes.

Citing documents from Brazils Supreme Court, Quinto Elemento reported that AHMSA made three wire transfers to Grangemouth Trading Cos account weeks after the steel company announced the controversial sale of the fertilizer plant to Pemex.

AHMSAs Grangemouth payments were made to an account with Meinl Bank Antigua, Quinto Elemento reported. The account was the same one Odebrecht executives said in testimony that they used to pay Lozoya bribes.

Reuters reviewed the documents obtained by Quinto Elemento.

Pemex Fertilizers, a Pemex subsidiary created during Pena Nieto's term, purchased two fertilizer plants in 2013 and 2016. One of the plants, ProAgro, was bought from AHMSA for $475 million, a sum that critics say was inflated. ProAgro was not operational when Pemex bought it.

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent to revive ProAgro, the plant was still not operating this year, according to a scathing government audit of the 2017 operations of Pemex, Mexico's biggest state-owned firm.

The second plant, Fertinal, operated well below capacity, and Pemex Fertilizers suffered net losses of $665 million that year, according to the report. Meanwhile, its assets were worth $1.1 billion less over the course of the year, the report said.

Lozoya has defended the purchases as part of the government's efforts to provide support to agriculture in Mexico.

Last week, the Public Administration Ministry announced sanctions against two senior Pemex executives from the Pena Nieto administration, without identifying the executives.

One of the executives was Lozoya, according to the people with knowledge of the matter, who was barred from holding public office for 10 years. Another was the former head of Pemex's fertilizer unit, Mexican media reported.

(Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez, Diego Ore, Lizbeth Diaz; writing by David Alire Garcia; editing by Marguerita Choy, Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)