Reporting from Mexico City — For days, Mexican police ringed Congress in an odd cat-and-mouse game, trying to catch Julio Cesar Godoy before he could get inside to take office as a federal deputy.
The mouse won.
On Thursday, Godoy popped up inside Congress and was quickly sworn in by the president of the Chamber of Deputies, thus gaining immunity from prosecution on 2009 drug-trafficking charges.
Godoy, a member of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, from the western state of Michoacan, was elected to Congress in July 2009. But he disappeared after federal authorities accused him of having ties to the violent drug-trafficking group known as La Familia.
The federal charges cost Godoy, a lawyer, his right to take office, and Congress ruled then that he could not be sworn in until he "resolves his judicial situation." In any case, Godoy did not show up when Congress opened in September 2009.
A judge this month restored Godoy's political rights, though the government's drug charges against stand. The decision allowed Godoy to take his congressional seat, which entitles him to immunity from prosecution unless Congress denies him that protection.
Godoy upheld his innocence Thursday during a contentious news conference. He claimed to have walked in the front door of Congress, but journalists disputed that. Some reports said Godoy was driven into the complex.
Godoy, who is the half brother of Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy, said it was up to federal prosecutors to ask Congress to strip his immunity.
"I am no criminal," Godoy said.
Shortly after Godoy won election, authorities accused him of providing protection to La Familia.
The congressman-elect disappeared from view and issued no statements. In his news conference, Godoy, wearing a jacket and tie and shorn of his mustache, said he was at home the whole time.
The charges against Godoy last year came weeks after 30 mayors and other functionaries, mostly PRD members, were arrested on suspicion of having ties to the traffickers. Five other officials were later arrested. Of the 35 people detained, all but seven have been released.
At the time, PRD leaders labeled the roundup as an election-eve stunt by conservative President Felipe Calderon, a charge the administration denied.
On Thursday, the newly minted congressman joined his party's chorus.
"This attack is not against Julio Cesar Godoy," Godoy said. "This attack is an instrument the federal government is using to attack our party and to win the state of Michoacan."