Mexico Accuses 2 Former Security Chiefs Over Amassed Wealth; 427 Agents Fired
In a widening scandal involving the narcotics traffic, the Mexican government has accused two former zone commanders of the powerful Federal Security Directorate of amassing apparently illegal fortunes, fired 427 of the agency’s 2,200 agents and replaced 19 of its 31 state directors.
In addition, the immediate past director of the force is believed to have fled the country.
The credentials of all members of the directorate have been seized, the Ministry of Government declared, and new ones are being issued in an effort to “renew and restructure” the elite police agency.
Founded 40 years ago, the influential directorate is responsible for both political intelligence and surveillance. Its role combines some functions similar to those of the CIA and the FBI, although its activities are confined to domestic matters. Like its U.S. counterparts, it is known by its initials, DFS in Spanish.
Plainclothes DFS agents rarely come into contact with average Mexican citizens or foreign visitors, but they are widely feared because of the semi-secret nature of the organization and its reputation for dealing harshly with suspects.
For years, some U.S. investigators have believed that DFS agents were participating in the narcotics traffic or, at the very least, had intimate knowledge of it. But no proof could be obtained.
The suspicion was based in part on the premise that no important illegal activity within Mexico could escape the attention of the powerful police agency.
In the aftermath of the kidnaping and murder of U.S. narcotics agent Enrique S. Camarena in February, the DFS became ensnared in controversy. Some agents were accused of acting as bodyguards for figures in the narcotics trade. Others were accused of protecting drug shipments.
Many of the police officers implicated in the narcotics traffic after the Camarena case erupted were members of either the state or federal judicial police forces, which are also undergoing a house cleaning. The involvement of the Federal Security Directorate did not become clear until later.
Investigators said that many of the criminals under arrest in the Camarena case carried real or false DFS credentials, or identified themselves as DFS agents. A judicial police commander, now in jail, said he allowed narcotics trade kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero to flee Mexico because he claimed to be with the agency.
In a lengthy statement issued this week, the Ministry of Government acknowledged that two DFS agents who were captured with a drug traffic boss have been jailed on charges of working for the suspected criminal. Another DFS agent is being held for his suspected involvement in protecting a huge marijuana farm in Chihuahua state that was raided by authorities last November.
Three others remain under investigation for suspected complicity in unspecified illegal activity and have been dismissed from the DFS, the government said. But it denied that bogus DFS credentials are in wide circulation.
Most of the 427 discharged agents were removed because they did not meet the proper requirements, according to the government.
The latest blow to the prestige of the DFS came with the disclosure Wednesday that Rafael Chao Lopez and Daniel Acuna Figueroa, both of whom are former zone commanders of the directorate, are under investigation for “inexplicable enrichment.”
The charges were lodged against them by the office of the controller of the federal government, a Cabinet-level agency created by President Miguel de la Madrid to implement his heralded “moral renovation” program, the results of which have been disappointing to many.
The two ex-commanders are believed to be the first figures against whom De la Madrid has used legislation written by former President Jose Lopez Portillo designed to make it tougher for public officials to steal.
The law places the burden of proving innocence upon any public official who becomes “inexplicably rich” during his term of public service. In the case of the two former zone commanders, Mexican officials said that Chao Lopez’s wealth is believed to exceed $1.25 million. They said that Acuna Figueroa has “several bank accounts” in the United States, but no total figures were available.
The pay of DFS agents is not made public, but commanders in the Federal Judicial Police, the counterparts of the DFS in criminal investigations, receive $1,200 a month.
“We know that Chao Lopez in particular has been living well beyond his means,” said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified.
Another mystery involving the DFS concerns the sudden disappearance of Jose Antonio Zorrilla Perez, the immediate former director of the agency.
He left the job Feb. 28 after being nominated for a seat in Congress from Hidalgo state by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. He launched his campaign with the statement, “It’s time to tell the truth because the people demand it.”
As the agency’s involvement in the narcotics trade began coming to light, questions started to surface about Zorrilla’s possible role. He was alleged to have signed many of the phony DFS credentials that were reported to be in circulation.
On May 25, Zorrilla abruptly resigned as a candidate and left the country on an Iberia Airlines flight headed for Madrid. His present whereabouts are not known.
The head of the party, Sen. Adolfo Lugo Verduzco, told Proceso, a local news magazine, that Zorrilla’s resignation was related to the party’s wish to conform to De la Madrid’s “moral renovation” campaign.
The Ministry of Government, the Cabinet department of which the DFS is a part, said that Zorrilla was guilty of “administrative inefficiency” and “deficient control over the actions of his agents.” But it added that no one has accused Zorrilla of criminal wrongdoing.
The U.S. Embassy has issued a statement denying a report in the current issue of Proceso that quotes an unnamed official of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as saying that Zorrilla was linked to the narcotics trade. “The DEA has no proof that Mr. Zorrilla Perez is involved with narcotics traffickers,” the embassy declared.
An official of the embassy emphasized privately the use of the word “proof.”