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Mexico Official Allegedly Was at Kidnap Talk

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mexico City’s current chief of police was present at one of the meetings where the kidnaping of U.S. drug agent Enrique Camarena was planned, federal prosecutors have alleged in court documents filed in Los Angeles.

The U.S. prosecutors said Javier Garcia Paniagua was among 10 men--ranging from drug traffickers to top Mexican law enforcement officials--who met in Guadalajara in October, 1984, to discuss “a DEA agent that was causing significant problems,” according to a prosecution document filed this week in preparation for a major trial involving four suspects indicted in Camarena’s murder.

Garcia, who has not been indicted in the Camarena case, was Mexico’s secretary of state from 1976 to 1982 and later served as president of that country’s leading political party, PRI.

A controversial figure, Garcia is a former director of Mexico’s federal security police, which has seen several of its officials implicated in drug trafficking. When he was appointed Mexico City’s police chief in January, 1989, congressional sources in Washington and U.S. law enforcement agents on both sides of the border expressed dismay.

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Garcia could not be reached for comment Thursday, but Mexico’s consul general in Los Angeles, Jose Angel Pescador Osuna, expressed surprise at the latest U.S. allegation.

“I had never heard the name of Garcia Paniagua in this case,” he said. “I don’t know where they get this information. I am going to send this to Mexico.”

The disclosure is likely to further inflame tensions between the United States and Mexico.

Mexican officials have claimed that a “rogue” unit in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration orchestrated the April 2 kidnaping of a Guadalajara doctor, who was flown across the border by bounty hunters to face prosecution in the Camarena case.

Mexico’s attorney general, Enrique Alvarez del Castillo, has continually maintained that all of the people responsible for Camarena’s slaying have been brought to justice. About two dozen people have been convicted in Mexico of involvement in Camarena’s abduction and murder. Three people are also serving jail terms in the United States.

The DEA has relentlessly pursued Camarena’s killers, claiming that the conspiracy to kidnap the agent involved several former high-ranking Mexican law enforcement officials.

Camarena, who worked undercover for the DEA, had incurred the wrath of Mexican drug kingpins by tipping authorities to vast marijuana fields in the Mexican countryside. A subsequent raid by authorities reputedly cost traffickers billions of dollars in lost street sales.

The alleged plotters “agreed that something would have to be done about him,” prosecutors said.

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Camarena was kidnaped off a Guadalajara street in February, 1985, and taken to a house owned by convicted drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero. He was interrogated and tortured. His mutilated body was found at a ranch 65 miles from Guadalajara a month later.

The prosecution memorandum submitted by assistant U.S. attorneys Manuel Medrano and John Carlton states that the meeting Garcia attended was the second of two gatherings held in October, 1984, at the home of Javier Barba Hernandez, who is identified as a chief lieutenant of the Guadalajara narcotics cartel. Barba was killed in a shoot-out with Mexican federal police last year.

Also attending the meeting, according to the document, were Honduran drug kingpin Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros; Manuel Ibarra Herrera, former director of the Mexican federal security police; Miguel Aldana Ibarra, a former director of Interpol in Mexico; Caro Quintero; drug kingpin Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo; Mexican businessman Ruben Zuno Arce; Armando Pavon Reyes, Ibarra Herrera’s chief aide, and drug trafficker Manuel Salcido.

All but Salcido, who remains a fugitive on unrelated charges, and Garcia, have been indicted in the Camarena case.

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Defense attorneys in the impending trial said this was the first time that Garcia’s name has been raised in connection with the kidnaping and that no material on him had been turned over by prosecutors. “This raises more questions than it answers,” one defense lawyer said.

Defense attorneys were divided over the possibility that Garcia would testify at the trial.

According to the new prosecution memo, there were a total of four meetings held to discuss what to do about Camarena. The only reference to Garcia is that he attended the second meeting.

At the third meeting, held in December, 1984, Camarena’s photograph was passed around and conspirators said they were “going to take care of him,” the memo said. The final meeting was held in early February, 1985, just a few days before Camarena was kidnaped.

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“Corruption amongst Mexican high-ranking government and law enforcement officials was pervasive,” according to the prosecution’s trial brief. “Law enforcement officials were on the traffickers’ payroll, and facilitated matters by providing protection for marijuana and cocaine loads, and escorting marijuana shipments being transported and smuggled into the United States.”

One defense lawyer said the trial brief “confirms, once again, that the Mexican government is on trial.”


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