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The car of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos was found abandoned near his ranch in the central state of Queretaro amid "signs of violence", they added.
Local media have been giving conflicting reports of his fate.
Mr Fernandez de Cevallos was the 1994 presidential candidate of the governing National Action Party, but he continues to be an influential figure in Mexico.
The 69-year-old served as a senator and congressman while also pursuing a successful career as a lawyer, winning some of the country