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Suspect in Sanyo Official's Kidnapping Freed

Crime: Court orders cabdriver released for lack of evidence that he was involved in Tijuana abduction of Japanese executive.

September 18, 1996|ANNE-MARIE O'CONNOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TIJUANA — Losing their only break in a case that created a furor in Mexico's foreign business community, authorities Tuesday released for lack of evidence a cabdriver arrested in connection with the Aug. 10 kidnapping of a Japanese business executive, police and prison spokesmen said.

Genaro Maldonado Topete, 28, was freed Tuesday afternoon from the State Public Jail in downtown Tijuana after prosecutors failed to adequately support their case against him, said Cynthia Silva, a spokesman for the facility.

Maldonado's Sept. 9 arrest by state judicial police was announced with much fanfare by authorities who portrayed him as a member of a 10-man kidnapping ring that abducted Mamoru Konno, president of Sanyo Video Components, in a Tijuana park. Konno was released Aug. 18 after Sanyo paid the kidnappers a ransom of $2 million in unmarked bills.

Antonio Torres Miranda, the commander of the state judicial police in Tijuana, said the First Penal Court ordered Maldonado released because three key witnesses failed to show up to testify against him.

Authorities believed Maldonado was in the gang that also is suspected of kidnapping Baja California farmer Rafael Rodriguez in Ensenada in July. Teodoro Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Baja state attorney general's office, said Maldonado had been identified by Rodriguez as one of his captors and linked to both kidnapping cases by other evidence that he did not specify.

Baja authorities have been under tremendous pressure from senior Mexican and Japanese government officials to solve the kidnapping, which has alarmed the growing corps of foreign businessmen who work in Tijuana, and they were clearly chagrined by the apparent collapse of their case against Maldonado.

"After all that work, they just let him go," Torres Miranda said. "It's frustrating and disappointing."

Others said the pressure may have prompted authorities to cobble together an ill-prepared case. Independent human rights leader Victor Clark said Maldonado told him he had been tortured into confessing by interrogators who beat him and placed a plastic bag over his head, cutting off his air.

"That's a lie," Torres Miranda said. "All we did was present the testimonies of three people threatened by him."

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