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Mexican Police Arrest Ex-Governor

May 25, 2001

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Federal police arrested a former governor suspected of protecting drug smugglers Thursday, ending a two-year search for one of Mexico’s most wanted fugitives.

Mario Villanueva was arrested while traveling in a car in the Caribbean resort of Cancun with two other people, including a former state judicial police officer, said Mexico’s attorney general, Rafael Macedo.

Villanueva did not resist arrest, said Macedo, who credited the arrest to the work of his office since his appointment by President Vicente Fox six months ago and to collaboration with U.S. authorities.

``This has been the result of intense work and swapping information with different international agencies, especially, in this case, the DEA,″ Macedo said, referring to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Villanueva, who faces drug-smuggling and organized-crime charges, is the highest-ranking Mexican official ever to face a drug investigation while in office. Authorities accuse him of helping drug smugglers during his 1993-99 administration, during which the drug trade boomed.

The main accusation against Villanueva is that he used police to help protect drug smugglers from a group known as the Juarez organization. Villanueva has denied the allegations, saying they were motivated by political rivalries.

After being questioned by Mexico’s drug czar and summoned for further testimony, Villanueva shook off a police tail and disappeared on March 28, 1999, two weeks before the end of his term as governor of the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located.

The end of his term would have brought the end of his constitutional immunity from prosecution.

The prosecution of a ruling-party governor intrigued Mexicans accustomed to the virtual impunity enjoyed by officials of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico for 71 years before Vicente Fox won the presidency last year.

After his disappearance, Villanueva sent a videotaped statement to the television network Televisa, in which he denied any wrongdoing and said prosecutors had ``fabricated evidence, paid for testimony from some witnesses and pressured others″ to build a case against him.

Villanueva’s ability to elude authorities led opposition lawmakers to charge that the attorney general’s office had allowed him to escape to avoid further embarrassment to the governing party.

Then-Attorney General Jorge Madrazo denied the accusations, saying his office did not have enough evidence to arrest Villanueva before his term ended.

Macedo said Villanueva frequently moved in and out of the country during his two years on the run, entering through Mexico’s southern border.

Officials have said drug trafficking grew substantially in Quintana Roo during Villanueva’s administration, when former law enforcement officials aided drug smugglers.

One of those former officials is Ramon Alcides Magana, also known as ``El Metro,″ who heads the Cancun operations of the cocaine-smuggling organization that grew out of the Juarez Cartel after the death of its leader in 1997. Some say Alcides Magana, a former police official, is the world’s top drug lord.

One of the two people in the car with Villanueva when investigators from the attorney general’s office arrested him was former state judicial police officer Manuel Jesus Kan. Macedo said Villanueva would be taken to the nation’s most secure prison, outside Mexico City.

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