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Kidnapped Mexican politician released after seven months

Wealthy lawyer and former presidential candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, who appears healthy, declines to talk about his ordeal in detail.

December 20, 2010|By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City — Onetime Mexican presidential candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallos was freed Monday, seven months after being kidnapped from his ranch in a stunning strike at an icon of the country's rich and powerful.

Fernandez de Cevallos, 69, wearing a hooded track suit and white beard grown bushy, appeared in good health. But in comments outside one of his residences in Mexico City, he provided no details on the months of captivity.

"I want to tell you that I am fine, thank God, that I'm strong and that my life will go on being the same," Fernandez de Cevallos told reporters. He said he had forgiven the kidnappers, but called on authorities to catch them.

He drove off in a silver Mercedes-Benz, clutching a thick bouquet of red roses.

The release appeared to end a riveting drama surrounding the cigar-chomping Fernandez de Cevallos, a wealthy lawyer who ran unsuccessfully for president in 1994 and remained one of Mexico's most potent movers and shakers.

But questions remained, including who carried out the kidnapping and why Fernandez de Cevallos was freed.

News media reported over the weekend that Fernandez de Cevallos would soon be released, after they received a lengthy statement purportedly issued by his captors. The reports said the kidnappers' undisclosed ransom demands had been met.

The 5,300-word statement brimmed with left-wing critiques of Mexico's political system and neoliberal economic policies. It described Fernandez de Cevallos as an influence peddler serving a corrupt political "mafia" and said he "appeared untouchable until that night when his dark past caught up with him."

The statement, titled "Epilogue of a Disappearance," mocked the government's war on drug cartels, saying the threat posed by poverty was "much more powerful than all the hit men put together." It was signed "Network for Global Transformation."

The kidnappers had periodically released photographs of Fernandez de Cevallos, who was shown blindfolded and holding up Mexican publications to prove he was alive. A handwritten letter he purportedly wrote in June described captivity as "hell" and urged his family to redouble its efforts to raise the ransom.

Fernandez de Cevallos has been a mainstay of the right-leaning National Action Party —whose members include President Felipe Calderon — since long before it had a realistic chance of winning power in Mexico. The party broke through in 2000 by defeating the long-reigning Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Known for canny deal-making, a tart tongue and trademark beard, Fernandez de Cevallos has represented the well-connected, even suing the government while serving in the Senate. He shrugged off charges of conflict of interest.

Calderon said Monday that he spoke with Fernandez de Cevallos, expressing his satisfaction over the release and vowing to try to solve the case.

The list of possible suspects in the abduction ranged from drug cartels to leftist guerrilla-type movements that have carried out other kidnappings.

The captors were well-prepared, apparently using a scanner to locate an anti-kidnapping tracking chip planted under Fernandez de Cevallos' skin and removing it with scissors when they seized him at the gates of his ranch in the central state of Queretaro.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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