HomeNewsAnalysisMexico Corruption Probe Prompts Suspicion of Political Witch Hunt
ANALYSIS

Mexico Corruption Probe Prompts Suspicion of Political Witch Hunt

MEXICO / 28 MAY 2012 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

Mexico’s investigation into a former governor accused of taking drug money has raised suspicions of political meddling, coming soon before the presidential election, but may instead reflect the influence of the US on the country’s strategy against organized crime.

Last week, the anti-organized crime division of Mexico’s Justice Department — known as the PGR, for its initials in Spanish — searched properties belonging to Tomas Yarrington (pictured), former governor of Tamaulipas, and three businessmen connected to him. The group is being investigated for money laundering and other crimes stemming from straw purchases of several mansions. The properties are located in a number of cities around Tamaulipas, including Ciudad Victoria, the state capital, and Matamoros, which is across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Yarrington, who held the state’s top post from 1999 through 2004, was one of three former Tamaulipas governors put under investigation by the PGR in January. His term in office coincided with the rise (and the fall) of Gulf Cartel boss Osiel Cardenas, as well as the emergence of the Zetas, an armed group founded by Cardenas and initially composed primarily of army deserters. While the suspected links between Tamaulipas politicians and drug traffickers go deeper than any single administration, Yarrington in particular has long been accused of links to organized crime, and his case appears to be further along than those of the other two former Tamaulipas governors.

Yarrington was once seen as a potential presidential candidate, and is connected to some of the most prominent members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). However, the party suspended his membership last week, and Enrique Peña Nieto, PRI candidate and frontrunner for the July presidential elections, was obliged to distance himself from the now-disgraced politician amid rumors that he had been arrested.

With Peña some 20 points ahead of the candidate from President Felipe Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN), many suspect that political calculations could be driving the investigations of various prominent PRI figures. The arrest of PRI heavyweight and former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon last year, which eventually resulted in an embarrassing dismissal of all charges, was the first of these supposedly political arrests. The detention of retired General Tomas Angeles earlier this month was also attributed by some to his supposed links to the PRI. While there is no clear evidence of a political motivation, as with Angeles and Hank Rhon, the allegations against Yarrington were longstanding, and he has been out of office for eight years, so the timing is striking.

However, Yarrington’s investigation comes amid a redoubled crackdown on corruption under Attorney General Marisela Morales. The attorney general, who took up the post a little more than a year ago, first began a purge of her own department, announcing that some 1,500 PGR employees would be leaving their posts. She has targeted not only anonymous bureaucrats, but prominent political figures who were overlooked in previous anti-corruption efforts.

Mexico’s governors have long been immune to anti-corruption drives, despite often being linked to illegal activities. Mario Villanueva, a former governor of Quintana Roo, has spent time behind bars both in Mexico and the US (where he is today) thanks to his relationship with the Juarez Cartel in the 1990s, but, since his arrest in 2001, no comparable case had emerged until the investigation into Yarrington. The apparent lack of interest in governors’ wrongdoing is all the more important because of the enormous role they play in Mexican public life, far beyond that of their counterparts in the US.

Yarrington’s arrest also fits with the government’s increasing focus on the Zetas and regions where they dominate, like Tamaulipas. The Zetas, whose reputation as one of the bloodiest gangs in Mexico goes back more than a decade, have long been a target of state forces. However, thanks to a series of provocative acts of violence, including the killing of a US federal agent in February 2011 and the murder of hundreds of people in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, they were labeled as the government’s top enemy last summer.

The investigation into Yarrington is also evidence of the outsized influence of the US in guiding not only Mexico’s broader strategy on organized crime, but also, perhaps, the individual targets of government crackdowns. The latest flurry of interest into Yarrington came after the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the ex-governor’s real estate purchases north of the Rio Grande, in Texas. Meanwhile, Angeles and three other generals arrested in the same sweep had faced accusations from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). And as mentioned, the Mexican government singled out the Zetas, after years of notoriety, only after they incurred US wrath with the February 2011 killing of ICE agent Jaime Zapata.

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Related Content

MEXICO / 9 JUN 2011

Recent discoveries of homemade "tanks" belonging to Mexican criminal groups have caused widespread concern, but these heavily-armored trucks…

MEXICO / 28 SEP 2012

Mexico's 2012 National Survey on Victimization and Perception of Public Security revealed that almost 92 percent of crime were…

MEXICO / 6 DEC 2011

Mexico announced the capture of Gilberto Morales Castrejon, alias “Commander Gil,” the alleged leader of the Independent Cartel of Acapulco.

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…