MEXICO'S RULING PARTY IS ACCUSED OF EXTORTING MILLIONS FROM AIRLINE

MEXICO'S RULING PARTY IS ACCUSED OF EXTORTING MILLIONS FROM AIRLINE

Opposition politicians said they're pressing for a government investigation into a report that Mexico's ruling party extorted an $8 million contribution

from the country's largest airline last year.

"An investigation would be healthy. It's what the system needs," said Tarcisio Navarrete, a federal deputy with the National Action Party (PAN) on Tuesday.Gerardo de Prevoisin, the fugitive former chairman of Aeromexico, claimed in court documents filed in a Texas court that the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), extorted $8 million from the airline during last year's presidential elections.

The claim - reported in the New York Times on Tuesday - has sparked a furor in Mexico, where foes of the PRI have long suspected that the party demands exorbitant contributions from corporations to help fund its political campaigns.

As the opposition sees it, companies that help the PRI are rewarded with lucrative government contracts, concessions and other benefits.

"It wouldn't be unusual for a large national company to be in cahoots with the political powers," Mr. Navarrete said. "That has traditionally occurred in Mexico."

Mr. Prevoisin left Aeromexico in September and fled the country after the airline ran into financial trouble. Three months later, Mexican authorities accused him of embezzling millions of dollars from the airline.

PRI officials contend that Mr. Prevoisin, with his accusations against the party, is simply trying to divert attention from the alleged embezzlement.

"I find it strange that the money went into his personal bank account before it went to the PRI," said Georgina Lagos, a party spokeswoman. "It's very fishy."

Another possibility, some say, is that Mr. Prevoisin is a whistle blower in a system that hasn't quite gotten used to the idea of insiders denouncing corruption.

"He could be trying to save his hide, but that doesn't mean his information isn't accurate," said Daniel Lund, director of Market and Opinion Research International, a research group in Mexico City.