MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's president on Thursday celebrated the resignation of the head of the country's oil workers union, who ruled the organization for nearly three decades with an iron fist before quitting following repeated scandals over alleged corruption.
Carlos Romero Deschamps issued a public letter defending his 26-year-leadership of the Union of Oil Workers of the Mexican Republic, but did not specifically address the matter of two complaints under investigation by the Attorney General's Office related to alleged operations with illicit resources.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Romero Deschamps' departure marks "the beginning of a new stage" and called for free and democratic union governance with "transparency in the management of funds from worker dues."
"In truth I celebrate what happened yesterday," López Obrador said, adding that corruption must not be allowed. He has made rooting out corruption a core policy of his administration.
Romero Deschamps is also a senator for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which monopolized Mexican politics for 71 years until its loss in the historic 2000 election. He was not elected directly but rather named to the Senate under a system allotting some seats to parties according to their percentage of the vote.
Suspicions of influence-peddling have long surrounded Romero Deschamps, with he and family members displaying a lavish lifestyle of luxurious goods, vehicles, trips and properties. A 2013 Forbes article named him one of Mexico's 10 most corrupt.
"It cannot be that union leaders live pampered lives, heaped with privileges, with very wealthy residences," López Obrador said. "That is immoral. How can a leader of workers be a magnate at the same time? Where does that money come from?"
In 2002, under then-President Vicente Fox of the National Action Party, investigators looked into charges of money laundering and embezzlement of over $11 million by Pemex officials. Romero Deschamps was among those targeted.
But repeated suspicions, allegations and complaints against Romero Deschamps over the decades never turned into criminal conviction, and he denies wrongdoing.
In the letter published in Mexican newspapers, Romero Deschamps said he first went to work in 1959 at age 14 for Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, and held a range of jobs before becoming union leader, in 1993. He replaced a previous union chief who had been arrested in what the government at the time described as a crackdown on corruption.
Romero Deschamps touted achievements during his tenure on issues such as pensions, health care, worker housing and surviving massive budget cuts without any layoffs.
"Today, for reasons that are very unclear, we do not see the cooperation that should exist between workers and the administration to boost projects that allow for the true advancement of Pemex toward consolidation," Romero Deschamps said in explaining the decision to resign. "It appears that there has been an intensification of the old stance of seeing us as antagonists and not as complementary in the task of supporting Pemex in its historical commitment to guaranteeing national development."
The Mexican Treasury's Financial Intelligence Unit filed the two complaints with federal prosecutors, according to an official with the unit who agreed to discuss the matter only if not quoted by name for lack of authorization to talk about the case publicly.
Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.