A top former Mexican law enforcement official on Thursday denied that he embezzled money seized from drug dealers, testifying that he got more than $200,000 in cash as a “bonus” from former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Mario Ruiz Massieu, the former Mexican assistant attorney general whom Mexican authorities now are seeking to extradite on a series of criminal charges, asserted in an American legal proceeding here that Salinas made the 750,000-peso payment--then worth about $220,000--in November at his official residence. Ruiz Massieu testified he deposited the cash in his personal bank account.
Speaking through a translator, he said that Salinas had rewarded him for his work in the capture of Fernando Rodriguez, a conspirator in the September assassination of Francisco Ruiz Massieu, Ruiz Massieu’s brother and the No. 2 official in Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
But U.S. officials contend the money was embezzled by Mario Ruiz Massieu from the attorney general’s office, including from sums seized from Mexican drug dealers and drug operations.
After Thursday’s hearing, Juan Miguel Ponce, an official of the Mexican attorney general’s office who was present at the proceedings, denied to reporters that Salinas had ever given Ruiz Massieu such a bonus.
He said that there was a reward of 75,000 pesos--not 750,000 pesos--paid in the case and that it was split among several participants, none of them government officials. Such officials were barred by law from receiving any of the cash.
Mexico is seeking the return of Ruiz Massieu, 44, on charges he embezzled $750,000 while Mexican deputy attorney general from April to November of last year.
U.S. Magistrate Ronald Hedges, who is presiding over Ruiz Massieu’s present hearing, turned down an earlier request for his extradition in June on charges that the Mexican official was involved in a cover-up while investigating the assassination of his brother. The magistrate noted then that significant evidence against Ruiz Massieu, who expressed fears he would be killed if returned to his native land, was obtained by torturing other suspects.
In court last week, Assistant U.S. Atty. Alberto Rivas attempted to show a pattern between deposits into Ruiz Massieu’s personal accounts and money withdrawn from Mexican drug forfeiture funds by the accused; his longtime aide, Jorge Stergios Gomez, and his secretary, Dolores Mota-Rubio.
“This man was engaged in systematic thievery,” Rivas asserted. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire, and, in this case, there’s a heck of a lot of smoke.”
The proceedings against Ruiz Massieu continue today, but prosecutors declined to discuss whether they would further delve into his statements about money he said he received from Salinas. Those brief comments were made late Thursday.
Earlier, Ruiz Massieu had sought to account for some of the bank deposits that the Mexican government contends were embezzled funds, saying that he had received “bonuses” from Salinas and the Mexican government during his term. He testified that he used money seized by his government from drug dealers and drug operations for special investigations; he said he could not always obtain receipts to show how the money was used.