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Former Mexican state official in U.S. court on money laundering charges

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - The former finance secretary for the northern Mexican state of Coahuila appeared in a U.S. federal court in Texas on Thursday to face charges including money laundering, hours after surrendering to U.S. authorities seeking his arrest.

Hector Javier Villarreal Hernandez has been indicted in the United States on charges of conspiring with other top Mexican officials to accept bribes from drug traffickers and embezzling more than $2 million in public funds, prosecutors said.

U.S. prosecutors said Villarreal Hernandez, 42, and Jorge Juan Torres Lopez, the former interim governor of Coahuila, which borders Texas, transferred tainted money from Mexico to a bank in Texas and then on to Bermuda.

U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said Villarreal Hernandez surrendered to federal authorities in El Paso on Wednesday and was taken to San Antonio for the court appearance.

Pitman said Villarreal Hernandez faces up to twenty years in prison if convicted.

Lawyers for Villarreal Hernandez, who had been on the run, were not immediately available for comment.

Villarreal Hernandez resigned in 2011 while he was under investigation by Mexican authorities, and later was arrested in Mexico on charges that he falsified official documents to obtain more than $200 million in loans, prosecutors said.

He fled after posting bond in Mexico, and U.S. officials have been requesting the public's help in locating him.

Federal prosecutors last year charged Villarreal Hernandez of transferring more than $2 million in embezzled funds to a bank in Bermuda.

In February 2013, U.S. authorities seized $2.2 million from a bank account they said was controlled by Villarreal Hernandez.

Two weeks after the seizure of that account became public, U.S. prosecutors say Torres attempted to move the money from his Bermuda bank account to another in his name in Germany.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz)