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DEA Director Vows to Keep Investigating in Camarena Case

August 29, 1990|RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Drug Enforcement Administration chief Robert C. Bonner vowed Tuesday to forge ahead with investigating the 1985 torture-murder of U.S. drug agent Enrique S. Camarena despite strains it has placed on U.S.-Mexico relations.

Bonner, in his first meeting with reporters since taking command of the DEA on Aug. 16, also said he is troubled by a Los Angeles federal judge's decision that a suspect's arrest violated the U.S.-Mexico extradition treaty. The decision, Bonner said, threatens to hamper prosecutions of foreigners who persuade their governments to protest U.S. legal action against them.

"I am committed to continuing the Camarena murder investigation for as long as it takes and for so long as there is any prospect . . . to bring justice to anyone involved in the kidnaping, torture and murder of agent Camarena," said Bonner, who recently left the federal bench in Los Angeles to accept the DEA post.

Bonner said he had urged the Justice Department to appeal U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie's ruling that the extradition treaty with Mexico was violated by the DEA's apprehension of a Mexican gynecologist. The doctor was charged with administering drugs to Camarena while the agent was being tortured.

The Justice Department said it will appeal the Aug. 10 ruling in the case of Dr. Humberto Alvarez Machain of Guadalajara. The judge Friday ordered Alvarez held without bail on grounds that he is a flight risk.

Bonner said the ruling by his former colleague implies that "anyone who can get a foreign government to issue a note of protest may have a ticket out of prosecution, conviction and sentencing in the United States. It concerns me."

Emphasizing that he was speaking "historically," Bonner said "there have been concerns in the past" about the Mexican government's willingness to investigate and prosecute those responsible for Camarena's abduction, torture and murder.

"The Mexican government essentially had closed their investigation," he said. "We have not closed our investigation. There is no statute of limitations on the murder of a federal agent, a DEA agent, under U.S. law."

Recently, Bonner said, Mexico "definitely reopened" its probe. He said he has not yet met with Mexican officials about the case.

Within a month, Bonner said, he hopes to meet with DEA agents assigned to the Camarena investigation and with Justice Department officials and prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles to see what more can be done.

So far, 22 people have been indicted in the United States in the high-profile case. Seven have been convicted in two Los Angeles trials, and more than two dozen have been convicted in Mexico.

But U.S. officials believe that several key figures in Camarena's death are still free, and want to bring them to trial. They include Miguel Ibarra Herrera, the former head of Mexico's Federal Judicial Police, and Manuel Aldana Ibarra, the former head of the Mexican equivalent of the DEA.

In addition, the DEA is known to be investigating Mexico City Chief of Police Javier Garcia Paniagua, who has denied any involvement in Camarena's slaying.

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