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Mexico Police Kidnapping Operation Revealed

KIDNAPPING / 15 OCT 2013 BY MIRIAM WELLS EN

Details have emerged about how a kidnapping gang formed mostly of police operated in the Mexican tourist city of Acapulco, illustrating the central role security forces often play in Mexico's current kidnapping boom.

According to Mexico's Attorney General, the group of 18 kidnappers included 13 federal police officers, who chose the victims and picked them up in their patrol cars, reported El Universal. The victims, typically local businessmen such as owners of motels, brothels or casinos, were taken to a safe house where they stayed for one to two months while a ransom was negotiated.

The gang demanded up to $230,000 for the hostages' freedom, but ended up getting around $40,000, said El Universal. It was not enough to guarantee all their victims' freedom -- seven out of 14 people kidnapped during the band's five months of operation were killed. Three secret graves were found near the safe house, with the remains of three people reported kidnapped.

Three of the surviving victims have identified the police involved, with one of them stating they were "taken and transported by an official patrol car."

According to investigators, police approached a civilian named Jonathan Piedra Soberanis last April to propose the kidnapping alliance, offering him total impunity and good pay. Most of the police allegedly involved were of low-rank, with one middle-ranking official among those arrested.

InSight Crime Analysis

Kidnappings have risen significantly in Mexico in recent years, as traditional criminal organizations have fragmented. More factions fighting over the same profits means groups have to be resourceful and diversify their activities if they want to stay strong and maintain revenue streams.

In Mexico, as in other parts of Latin America, it is not just criminal organizations who engage in the practice -- security forces are also major players. Police are ideally placed to carry out kidnappings given their knowledge of the crime, access to information about potential victims, and the power to prevent investigations being carried out. If not kidnapping directly, they can also help facilitate the crime for criminal associates.

In a report released earlier this year, US-based NGO Human Rights Watch documented widespread evidence of Mexican security forces collaborating with organized criminal groups to forcibly disappear people and extort ransom money. A poll of 232 jailed kidnappers carried out in 2011 by Mexican research center Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economicas (CIDE) found 20 percent had been or were still part of the security forces.

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