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Suspect Held in Kidnapping of Sanyo Executive

Crime: Mexican authorities make first arrest in the abduction of Japanese businessman, who was released after ransom was paid. Police are still hunting for nine others.

September 12, 1996|ANNE MARIE O'CONNOR and CHRIS KRAUL | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

TIJUANA — In the first break in a case that created a furor over security in Mexico's growing foreign business community, Baja California authorities said Wednesday they have arrested the first of 10 suspects wanted in the Aug. 10 kidnapping of a Japanese executive.

Genaro Maldonado Topete, 28, a Tijuana resident, will be brought before the First Penal Court of Baja California this morning to answer charges in connection with the kidnapping of Mamoru Konno, president of Sanyo Video Components. Konno was released unharmed Aug. 18 after Sanyo paid kidnappers a $2-million ransom in unmarked U.S. currency.

Maldonado is thought to be part of a 10-member kidnapping gang that abducted Konno in a Tijuana park and also seized Baja California farmer Rafael Rodriguez in Ensenada in July. State authorities are under enormous pressure from top Mexican and Japanese authorities to solve the case and calm the fears of the growing corps of foreign executives who work in Tijuana.

Maldonado offered no resistance when he was arrested around midday Monday by elite members of the Baja California state judicial police assigned to the Konno case by the Baja attorney general's office. The suspect, taken into custody as he drove a taxi in the Francisco Villa barrio of Tijuana, also faces charges in connection with Rodriguez's abduction.

After his arrest, the suspect was identified by Rodriguez as one of his captors and linked to both the Konno and Rodriguez cases by other unspecified evidence, according to Teodoro Gonzalez, spokesman for the attorney general's office. Authorities said they are hopeful that other arrests will be made.

"We are following various lines of investigation. This is the first one that gave fruit," Gonzalez said. Still at large are the other suspected gang members, including the alleged ringleader, who was identified last week as Sergio Perez Fuentes, also known as Heriberto Norzagaray Beltran and "El Gordo."

Sanyo officials could not be reached for comment on the arrest.

Bernardo Cisneros, spokesman for the Baja California state judicial police, said: "There is a feeling of celebration because one of [the kidnappers] was captured. Hopefully this will help the state attorney general capture other members of the band that kidnapped Konno."

Most of the members of the kidnapping gang are thought to be from the Sinaloan town of El Naranjo, which is notorious for spawning kidnappers and drug runners, Baja California Atty. Gen. Jose Luis Anaya Bautista said last week. Mexican authorities said Maldonado had a criminal record but offered no details.

Konno is in Japan and did not personally identify the suspect. But other witnesses "close to both kidnapping cases" did identify Maldonado, Gonzalez said.

The kidnapping of Konno was the first known abduction of a foreign executive at one of Mexico's expanding maquiladoras, the foreign-owned factories that use low-cost labor to make goods mostly to be sold in the United States. Konno's company, Sanyo, makes a line of appliances, televisions and other goods, employing 5,000 in Tijuana.

Anaya last week released a wanted poster with names and photos of eight of the 10 suspects sought in the case.

He also said that the two unnamed suspects included a Mexican police officer from outside Baja California. Maldonado proved to be the other unidentified suspect.

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