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Top Swiss prosecutor reportedly questions drug lords about bank accounts

April 5, 1997

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Switzerland’s attorney general questioned the brother of a former Mexican president Friday amid reports that she was zeroing in on drugs as a possible source for millions of dollars in his Swiss bank accounts.

Carla del Ponte ignored questions by reporters as she entered a maximum-security prison outside Mexico City for a four-hour interrogation of Raul Salinas de Gortari.

Mexico’s attorney general’s office confirmed that Del Ponte met with Salinas.

The Swiss prosecutor told Salinas that she had questioned various witnesses in the United States ``who signaled that he had been involved in drug trafficking,″ the office said in a news release.

It was the second time in a week that Del Ponte had questioned Salinas, brother of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Raul Salinas, jailed since 1995 on charges of illegal enrichment and plotting a political assassination, denies any link with drug traffickers.

Del Ponte wound up her interviews in Mexico on Friday, but the investigation was still under way, the news release said. No statement was issued by the Swiss.

A 16-month investigation, led by Del Ponte, has concluded that perhaps as much as $100 million that Raul Salinas held in Swiss accounts came from drug trafficking, according to a PBS television ``Frontline″ report.

Excerpts of the broadcast, to be aired Tuesday, were released this week. Swiss authorities are preparing to seize the money, Swiss National Police Chief Valentin Roschacher says in the interview.

Separately, the Mexico City daily Reforma reported that Del Ponte had traveled Thursday to Guadalajara to interview jailed drug lords Hector Palma Salazar and Joaquin Guzman, two of Mexico’s reputed drug kingpins.

But neither Swiss nor Mexican authorities would confirm Reforma’s report.

In a letter seeking permission from the Mexican Attorney General’s office to interview suspects, Del Ponte underscored the belief that Raul Salinas had received ``enormous amounts of money″ from drug trafficking, The Miami Herald reported Thursday.

The Mexican agency has confirmed that the letter was received, but refused further comment.

The Herald said the Swiss investigation is based on depositions by about 15 witnesses who claim Salinas met with convicted drug boss Juan Garcia Abrego and other drug traffickers.

Salinas’ bank accounts in Switzerland were frozen in November 1995 when his wife and her brother were detained while trying to withdraw money, allegedly using documents bearing Salinas’ photo and a false name.

Raul Salinas has denied any links to drug traffickers and said the money was an investment fund pooled by several wealthy friends.

If authorities prove the money came from drug trafficking, there could be serious implications for Citibank and several other U.S. banks that helped Salinas transfer funds out of Mexico and into Swiss accounts.

Since last year, U.S. federal investigators have been scrutinizing Citibank’s handling of Salinas’ funds. Citibank maintains that none of its employees violated any laws in connection with the money.

Mexican authorities have accused Raul Salinas of illegal enrichment in connection with his mysterious European bank fortune, but have not opened an investigation into possible drug ties.

Salinas is accused in the 1994 assassination of his former brother-in-law, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, then No. 2 man in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. Officials have had trouble mounting clear evidence in the case. however.

Update hourly