A federal judge involved in the case of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has been assassinated in Mexico, in a rare example of violence against high level Mexican judicial officials.
On October 17, Vicente Antonio Bermúdez Zacarías was shot in the head by an assassin who approached him while he was jogging near his house in the Estado de Mexico municipality of Metepec. He later died of his wounds in a hospital.
Bermúdez was a federal judge assigned to the Sixth Criminal Court, specializing in raids, preventive detention and communication intercepts.
He presided in numerous high profile organized crime cases, including that of El Chapo, Mexico’s most infamous drug lord and leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
After El Chapo escaped from a maximum-security prison for a second time in July 2015, Bermúdez issued several rulings related to the search for the fugitive drug trafficker, including authorizing interceptions of the communications of his wife Emma Coronel, reported El Pais. After his re-arrest in January, Bermúdez also halted a petition for extradition to the United States that El Chapo had reportedly requested in order to receive better treatment in prison.
However, El Chapo was far from the only organized crime chief to deal with Bermúdez. The judge also issued rulings in cases linked to leading members of the Jalisco Cartel–New Generation (CJNG), the Zetas and Guerrero Unidos, according to El Universal.
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The motive for Bermúdez’s murder remains uncertain, although initial suspicion will likely fall on the organizations of his two most recent high profile rulings; the El Chapo case and a controversial preventive detention ruling in the case of alleged CJNG leader Abigael González Valencia, alias “El Cuini.”
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Whoever is responsible, the murder represents a rare example of organized crime attacking federal judges. As highlighted by Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope, this is the first murder of a federal judge in Mexico since René Hilario Nieto was killed in 2006, allegedly on the orders of the Gulf Cartel.
However, local judges, who rarely enjoy the same levels of protection as their federal counterparts, are common targets for violence and intimidation by organized crime networks.
The murder of Bermúdez underlines the fact that criminal organizations retain the will and capacity to use violence to pervert justice in Mexico and highlights the importance of protective measures to shield the judicial system from their influence.
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