- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 15, 2010

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A former Mexican presidential candidate who has remained a power broker in the ruling party was missing amid signs of violence, the federal Attorney General’s Office said Saturday.

Prosecutors said that the car of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos was found near his ranch in the central state of Queretaro. It said some of his belongings were found inside the car as well as unspecified “signs of violence.”

The Mexican newspaper El Universal reported that federal sources said Fernandez de Cevallos had been kidnapped, but a federal prosecutor’s spokeswoman said she could not confirm that.

Queretaro state Attorney General Arsenio Duran told the radio station Formato 21 that investigators found some of Fernandez de Cevallos’ belongings inside the car and a small pair of scissors with traces of blood on the ground near the car.

Duran said a night watchman told police Fernandez de Cevallos was supposed to arrive to his ranch in the town of Pedro Escobedo on Friday night but that he never made it.

Relatives who had planned to have breakfast with him Saturday morning reported him missing, Duran said. Relatives told authorities no one had contacted them to ask for a ransom.

Fernandez de Cevallos, 69, was the 1994 presidential candidate of the National Action Party that now governs Mexico and he has continued to be an influential figure, as well as one of Mexico’s most successful attorneys.

The bearded, cigar-chomping candidate emerged from relative obscurity during Mexico’s first televised debate by presidential candidates in 1994, striking a chord with the middle class with his calls to topple the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had held power since 1929.

He finished second to Ernesto Zedillo that year, but his party finally won the presidency six years later when Vicente Fox was elected.

President Felipe Calderon said in a statement he has ordered federal authorities to help Querataro state investigators in the search for Fernandez de Cevallos, calling him “a key politician in the Mexican transition to democracy.”

Fernandez de Cevallos became an elder statesman for the party, a power broker who split his time between Mexico’s Senate and his practice as an attorney for some of Mexico’s richest businesses.

He shrugged off critics’ allegations that there was a conflict of interest in representing companies that won lucrative lawsuits against the government while serving in Congress.

Fernandez de Cevallos’ father helped found the PAN in 1939.

One of 15 children, Fernandez de Cevallos grew up in the central state of Queretaro and eventually joined law firms linked to some of the PAN’s founders, creating ties that continued throughout his life. He was a close friend of several senior Cabinet ministers, including current Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez-Mont.

Kidnappers often target the wealthy in Mexico but rarely go after such high-ranking politicians or public officials.

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