The extradition to the United States of Tomás Yarrington, a former Mexico governor whose name has become synonymous with corruption and narco politics, could now be imminent. But other recent corruption cases involving powerful, though less high-profile, elites could send bigger shockwaves through Mexico’s institutions and criminal networks.
The request came after some wrangling between the United States and Mexico about where Yarrington would face trial. But US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Mexican Attorney General Raúl Cervantes agreed on April 19 to request that the “Italian Minister of Justice grant precedence to the United States’ [extradition] request,” according to a joint statement, leaving the charges in Mexico for another day.
Prior to his capture, Yarrington had been off the radar for nearly five years. The ex-governor of the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas went underground after the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República – PGR) launched an investigation into his links to the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas. He was subsequently indicted in the United States for cooperating with both criminal groups, in addition to being charged with money laundering and receiving bribes.
Yarrington also faces money laundering and organized crime charges in Mexico. Throughout his time in office, Yarrington is accused of allowing the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas to establish control over the state of Tamaulipas through initially accepting millions of dollars in bribes to finance political campaigns. He later allegedly became involved with the Gulf Cartel’s drug trafficking activities, the accusations say.
All the criminal charges against Yarrington relate to his time as governor, from 1999 to 2005, as a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI). The PRI suspended Yarrington in 2012, when the investigation of him in Mexico began.
Information that emerged in the Wall Street Journal after Yarrington’s capture shows that despite being the subject of an international arrest warrant, he was assigned eight state police bodyguards during the final six months of 2016.
The facts around his alleged partner in crime, Fernando Alejandro Cano Martínez, have received scant attention. (Yarrington’s comparative fame is the most likely explanation.) But Cano Martínez is technically accused of more offenses than Yarrington, and was actually captured in Nuevo León, Mexico, a couple of months before Yarrington was nabbed in Italy.
In the United States, Cano Martínez is charged with conspiring to violate the provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, in addition to conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy to defraud, and conspiracy to make false statements to federally insured US banks. In Mexico, he faces multimillion-dollar fraud charges.
Despite this, just hours after his arrest, Cano Martínez was released after posting bail and granted an order of protection against any demand for his detention in Mexico by a federal judge. It is unclear how Cano Martínez qualified for bail when he is wanted on such serious charges in the United States and Mexico. However, it is fair to speculate, given his reported connections, that favorable treatment and corruption may have played a part in his release.
All this points to further evidence of the long-lasting influence of political and business elites in Mexico, even when they are widely suspected of having abused their power.
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Yarrington may still have wielded significant influence until the day of his arrest, but the slow speed of the legal action taken by Mexico and the United States promises to weaken the impact of his prosecution. Both he and Cano Martínez were arrested — and Cano Martínez subsequently released — more than a decade after their crimes were committed.
The PRI has also lost control over Tamaulipas to a rival party for the first time in its history. Francisco Javier García Cabeza de Vaca assumed office in October of 2016 and is a member of the opposition National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional – PAN). Now, ten years later, and with a new party governing the state, many of the power networks and players have shifted.
That fact renders much of the information Yarrington may offer to US law enforcement — should he choose to cooperate — rather out of date, according to José Antonio Caballero Juárez, a professor at Mexico’s Center for Economic Research and Training (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas – CIDE).
“Surely his [Yarrington’s] links can be traced back to people who are still active,” Caballero told InSight Crime in an email. “While he may be able to provide information on more recent issues, his impact here seems to be much less important.”
Even if Cano Martínez is eventually re-arrested and prosecuted, the same logic applies to any information he may be persuaded to share with law enforcement.
SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles
In contrast, other recent, high-profile cases of corrupt elites offer hopes for more potential impact in challenging Mexico’s institutional corruption and disrupting today’s criminal dynamics.
In April 2017, Iván Reyes Arzate, a former commander of a Mexican police unit that shared intelligence with US partners, was charged with “conspiring with others to corruptly impede a U.S.-based narcotics investigation,” according to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Illinois.
Reyes “directly shared information with the targets of a US investigation in an effort to corruptly influence and warn the subjects of the investigation that they were being targeted,” according to the criminal complaint.
In a supposed pattern of collusion that dates back at least as far as 2009, Reyes allegedly “used his powers as a law enforcement official to protect the Beltrán Leyva Organization’s interests and regularly received payments totalling millions of dollars.”
Reyes had passed confidence tests in both the United States and Mexico, and the case against him shows the limits of such exams, says Caballero.
Crucially, Reyes was fired in November 2016, and in February 2017 was confronted by US federal prosecutors and Mexican Federal Police in the US embassy in Mexico City, according to the Chicago Tribune. The criminal complaint against him was promptly filed in February, and the indictment followed in April.
Reyes remained active in his alleged criminal collaborations up until the day he was fired, and was arrested soon after. Should Reyes, currently in custody in Chicago, choose to cooperate with law enforcement to lessen his sentence, he promises to shed much more light on contemporary organized crime dynamics and their political connections than Yarrington is likely to be able to do.
SEE ALSO: Beltrán Leyva Organization Profile
The case of Edgar Veytia, the ex-attorney general of Mexico’s state of Nayarit also has the potential to make a real impact. Veytia was arrested on March 27, in San Diego, California, on drug charges.
According to a US federal indictment, between January 2013 and February 2017, Veytia conspired to smuggle at least one kilogram of heroin, at least five kilograms of cocaine, at least a half a kilogram of methamphetamine and at least one metric ton of marijuana into the United States.
The allegation that Veytia was actively engaged in colluding with drug traffickers up until a few months ago suggests that he may have the most useful information at his disposal if he is to strike a deal with US authorities.
Furthermore, as attorney general, Veytia allegedly started colluding with drug traffickers in 2013, the same year he became Nayarit’s top law enforcement official. His state shares a northern border with the state of Sinaloa, the headquarters of the Sinaloa Cartel, which still retains significant control of operations to traffic drugs into the United States.
Since the capture and extradition of its former leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in January 2016, the Sinaloa Cartel has been weakened by an internal power struggle. The Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG), which was formed in the states of Jalisco and Colima, has been expanding across the country.
Anonymous military sources told Vanguardia in March 2017, that Veytia allowed the CJNG to make Nayarit its center of operations, and offered them protection in the process. Veytia allegedly allowed the CJNG to produce heroin and methamphetamine in clandestine laboratories in Nayarit, and to store cocaine shipments from Central and South America.
All this information suggests that Veytia and Reyes, rather than Yarrington or potentially Cano Martínez, could provide the kind of information that law enforcement could actually use to dismantle criminal organizations operating today.
This cross comparison shows the importance of timing, and how high-profile cases are not always the ones that can have the biggest impact on the ground.
That said, the prosecution of Yarrington still sends a message.
Corruption within Mexico’s political and security institutions has long plagued the country. In 2016 alone, five former Mexican governors were among a total of 11 ex-governors to face corruption charges — among them Eugenio Hernández, another ex-governor of Tamaulipas (from 2005 to 2010 after Yarrington); Rodrigo Medina, governor of Nuevo Leon from 2009 to 2015; and César Duarte, governor of Chihuahua from 2010 to 2016. All were at one time members of the PRI.
Yarrington’s prosecution — and that of another ex-governor accused of corruption, Javier Duarte — could be interpreted in one of two ways. It could signal that corruption in politics will not be tolerated, especially as the PRI focuses on improving its image, which has been ravaged by countless corruption scandals and human rights atrocities under the current administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Or it could be a warning to corrupt officials to keep a low profile, at least until after the presidential elections next year.
Regardless of what the PRI is doing to try to clean house, it will take a much more systematic institutional overhaul to rid Mexico of the impunity that allows cases of such abuses of power to happen. Meanwhile, the timely arrest and prosecution of allegedly corrupt elites like Veytia and Reyes are much more useful in the dismantling of today’s organized criminal networks and their narco-political nexus than those cases focused on corrupt actors long removed from power.