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Mexico Extradites Drug Trafficker

March 25, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a move welcomed by the Clinton administration, Mexican authorities have extradited a Mexican man described as a significant drug trafficker who headed a criminal enterprise.

State Department spokesman Lee McClenny said Wednesday that Tirso Angel Robles, who escaped to Mexico from a California prison in 1995, was turned over by Mexico to U.S. officials on Tuesday.

The announcement came as two key Republican House members moved to overturn President Clinton’s decision last month to certify Mexico as a fully cooperating partner in the drug war.

U.S. officials said they were hopeful that the extradition would quiet such criticism about Mexican cooperation. A major source of congressional concern has been Mexico’s refusal to extradite important drug traffickers.

First word of the extradition came from Rand Beers, the State Department’s senior counter-narcotics official, during a hearing of a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee.

Subcommittee Chairman Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., noted that extradition was a central issue in the debate over Mexican cooperation. He said the extradition of Robles was ``welcome news.″

Robles was convicted in the United States in 1991 of drug trafficking and taking part in a continuing criminal enterprise. He escaped in 1995 from California’s Terminal Island correctional facility, where he was serving a 12-year sentence.

He was arrested in Mexico in 1996 and approved for extradition a year later. A Mexico City court recently rejected his appeal.

Officials described Robles as a significant drug trafficker, even though he was not a member of a notorious criminal cartel.

According to accounts from Mexico, he was handed over by officers of Interpol Mexico to the U.S. Marshals Service. A Marshals Service spokesman said Robles arrived in the United States Tuesday night and was en route on Wednesday to Los Angeles.

Mexico has extradited dual nationals wanted for drug trafficking and other offenses but, before Tuesday, had never extradited a Mexican national who was not a dual citizen, officials said.

In welcoming Robles’ extradition, McClenny said the U.S. and Mexican governments have an active and productive extradition relationship. The two governments view the relationship ``as important in both bringing fugitives to justice and in combating transnational criminal organizations, such as the Mexican trafficking group headed by Robles,″ he said.

In certifying Mexico’s performance in the drug war on Feb. 26, Clinton ignored the objections of many in Congress.

And on Wednesday, House International Relations Committee Chairman Ben Gilman, R-N.Y., and Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., introduced legislation that would overturn the certification decision.

``No country in the world poses a more immediate drug threat to the United States,″ said Mica at a hearing of the Government Reform drug policy subcommittee he chairs.

Vast areas of Mexico are now under the control of drug traffickers, Mica said. ``If this trend continues, Mexico could be on the verge of turning their sovereignty over to drug traffickers.″

Congress under law has 30 days to reject the president’s decision to certify the drug efforts of a nation, but the Gilman bill would allow Congress to debate the issue beyond the normal deadline.

At a separate hearing, Thomas Constantine, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said two-thirds of the cocaine available in the United States comes across the Mexican border. ``On any given day in the United States, business transactions are being arranged between the major drug lords headquartered in Mexico and their surrogates,″ he said.

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