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Mexico bars fugitive lawmaker-elect Julio Cesar Godoy

Congress says Godoy, accused of aiding the notorious La Familia drug cartel in Michoacan, can't join the legislative body until he resolves his legal situation.

August 20, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson

MEXICO CITY — When registration opens today for Mexico's newly elected Congress, there is one up-and-coming legislator whom officials will be relieved to count as a no-show.

Julio Cesar Godoy, in addition to being a lawmaker-elect from the state of Michoacan, is also a fugitive from the law. Godoy, brother of the state governor, is one of dozens of politicians and police chiefs from Michoacan accused of aiding the notorious La Familia drug cartel. He dropped out of sight as arrest warrants came down in May and June, but won election anyway.

Godoy's situation underscores the suspected depth of drug-fueled corruption in Mexican politics. It also presents a dilemma for officials: If Godoy registered for Congress (a step required by national rules) and was sworn in Sept. 1, he would be entitled to immunity and could escape prosecution.

Should authorities risk the spectacle of arresting Godoy as he arrived at the congressional building? Might he sneak in the back door? If he didn't appear, he would lose the seat to an alternate elected with him who has not been accused of crimes.

On Wednesday afternoon, Congress found a way around the problem for now. The body's leadership ruled that Godoy cannot register until he "resolves his judicial situation."

And so, Mexico's political world continues to wait for Godoy's next move.

He hasn't been seen in public since he went on the lam in late June, although he wrote a letter to members of his party saying all of the allegations were untrue.

His brother, Leonel Godoy, governor of Michoacan, called on Julio Cesar to turn himself in but also questioned the case against him. The governor says the allegations have tarnished his own reputation.

"I've been the subject of a media lynching," he said.

Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon, is one of the most violent fronts in Mexico's war against drug traffickers and a prime example of their penetration into politics.

In May, government security forces arrested about 30 mayors and law enforcement officials in the state accused of providing protection networks for the La Familia cartel, a ruthless criminal syndicate that controls the export of methamphetamine to the U.S. and other drug ventures. In recent weeks, army and federal police forces have captured nearly 100 suspects. La Familia hit back in mid-July, killing at least 16 officers in coordinated attacks across the state.

Federal police say the slayings were ordered by Servando Gomez Martinez, the alleged operations chief of La Familia, who also controls the strategic port city of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan, through which much of the drugs are shipped.

Julio Cesar Godoy's congressional seat includes Lazaro Cardenas. Prosecutors say Godoy worked for Gomez Martinez, protected him and was a liaison between him and business and political circles.

Authorities on Wednesday announced the arrest of Gomez Martinez's mother, brother and bodyguard; last week, they arrested his son.

The governor and his brother, who share the same father but have different mothers, are members of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. The governor claims the accusations against his brother are politically motivated, a charge Calderon denies.

Even with the questions about his reputed cartel connections swirling around him, Julio Cesar Godoy won the July 5 election.

Last week, Mexico's electoral tribunal, despite widespread publicity about the case, ratified his win, saying it had not been notified of the arrest warrant targeting him.

A few days later, the attorney general's office asked Congress not to swear Godoy in. Attorney general spokesman Ricardo Najera said Wednesday that police were under orders to arrest Godoy if he attempted to register. He also said Godoy forfeited his right to take a seat in Congress when he became a fugitive.

But Lorenzo Cordova, an electoral law expert at National Autonomous University, said the state's case against Godoy was weak and had raised too many questions about the impartiality of the judiciary.

"In no democracy in the world are the public prosecutors dependent on the executive branch of government as they are in Mexico," he said. "That opens the door to at least the suspicion of the politically motivated use of justice, and if that's the case here, it would be shameful."

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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