Transparency & accountability

DEA report alleges former Mexican drug czar was corrupted

Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico’s former drug czar who died in a plane crash last November, is among three high-ranking law enforcement officials who are named in a Drug Enforcement Administration report as being linked to drug traffickers, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The report was released in April 2009. In May, the Chronicle reported excerpts from the DEA paper in which Santiago Vasconcelos was allegedly bribed by the Beltran Leyva drug organization. The source for the information was unclear; however, a DEA spokesman told the paper that the information about Santiago Vasconcelos’ alleged ties to traffickers had been included without being approved for public release.

Santiago Vasconcelos, who also worked as Mexico’s former attorney general, was never charged with any crimes while he was alive and he was considered by many U.S. officials to be highly trusted, according to the Chronicle.

For example, Santiago Vasconcelos had helped oversee a dramatic increase in cross-border
extraditions, including that of Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas. Santiago Vasconcelos was
appointed assistant attorney general for Judicial and International Affairs in 2007, and was slated to oversee the implementation of the ambitious 8-year judicial reform approved by the Mexican Congress in March 2008 (See News Report, November 2008).

Also, in July 2008, Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Median Mora indicated publicly that the DEA had supported Santiago Vasconcelos’ promotion within the PGR because of his esteemed track record of investigating and prosecuting organized crime (See News Report, July 2008). Santiago Vasconcelos died months later in a plan crash that also killed Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño.

Rumors of collusion between high-ranking Mexican investigators and drug traffickers are not unusual, though it is often difficult to verify their accuracy. The DEA paper obtained by the Chronicle did not detail any evidence as to bribery involving Santiago Vasconcelos. The other two Mexican officials are facing charges in connection with their alleged collaboration with drug cartels. Former deputy attorney general Noe Ramirez is accused of taking $450,000 in bribes from traffickers and Victor Gerardo Garay was also accused of being involved with organized crime.

From the June Justice in Mexico Project’s Monthly News Report:

Schiller, Dane. “DEA: Bribes taint late Mexican czar.” The Houston Chronicle. May 13, 2009.

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