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31 Jailed Officers Released in Mexico

Latin America: Tijuana chief is among those freed from group of 41. All are told further investigation is possible.


MEXICO CITY — Mexican officials said Monday that they had released 31 of the 41 Baja California law enforcement officers arrested in a sting operation last week, including the Tijuana police chief, but charged the remaining 10 with having links to the Arellano Felix drug cartel.

The officers were rounded up Wednesday at a Tecate police academy where they had been summoned under the pretext of having their firearms checked. Army units and special federal police took them into custody and flew them in three military aircraft to Mexico City, where the 31 who were freed had been held until Sunday along with the others.

Tijuana's top policeman, Carlos Otal Namur, and a deputy, Jesus Jacobo Aguirre, were among those released. An assistant state prosecutor, Rogelio Delgado Neri, was also freed. All those released were told they were subject to further investigation.

A spokesman for Tijuana Mayor Jesus Gonzalez Reyes said Otal Namur would be suspended until his legal situation was clarified. The city named an interim replacement last week.

The 10 officers remaining in custody are accused of being linked to the Arellano Felix gang. A federal judge now has 72 hours to decide whether the charges warrant trial. In the meantime, the suspects have been sent to the La Palma maximum-security prison near Mexico City.

Among the 10 are Mario Anaya Morales and Juan Cristobal Aguilar, two high-ranking state police in the Mexicali area.

In a statement, the federal attorney general's office said the 10 are suspected of having provided information to the Arellano Felix cartel in such a way as to "obstruct the arrest of the principal leaders."

The sting was the latest headline-grabbing move in President Vicente Fox's offensive against drug cartels. The war has resulted in several major arrests in recent weeks, including that of the drug lord the police were allegedly working for: Benjamin Arellano Felix, who was arrested in Puebla on March 9.

In an interview with the Reforma newspaper after his release Sunday, Aguirre said that he and others were treated roughly when they were taken into custody by army units in Tecate and that the arrests were based on unfounded anonymous accusations.

"We have nothing of luxury, we have no money, and they can confirm it by seeing our houses in Tijuana," Aguirre told the newspaper. "I couldn't even afford a 15-year birthday party for my daughter."

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