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Ex-Mexico attorney general indicted in mass kidnapping case

Former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam will face charges such as torture and forced disappearance, but experts called the indictment political theater and said the case has little chance of success at trial.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A federal judge Wednesday indicted former Mexico Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam on charges of torture, forced disappearance and crimes against the administration of justice related to the Ayotzinapa mass kidnapping case.

Murillo, attorney general when 43 Ayotzinapa teachers training college students were kidnapped and murdered in Iguala, Guerrero, in September 2014, was arrested this past Friday.

He stands accused of having fabricated what was called the “historic truth” of what happened on the night of Sept. 26, 2014. That version stated that members of the criminal group known as Guerreros Unidos kidnapped and ordered the murders of the students, whose remains were burned and the ashes thrown into a river in Cocula, 13 miles southwest of Iguala. 

Murillo’s version also ruled out the participation of members of the Mexican Army and other state actors, but an investigation by the Commission for the Truth and Access to Justice of the Ayotzinapa Case refutes that claim. 

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador created the commission as his first official act in office on Dec. 3, 2018.

“Arriving at the truth and doing justice does not weaken institutions, it strengthens them,” said López Obrador when he signed the order. “The truth is revolutionary, it is Christian. The lie is reactionary, of the devil.” 

Commission President Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez presented the initial findings of nearly four years of investigations at a press conference Aug. 18, declaring the disappearance of the students a “crime of the state in which members of the criminal group Guerreros Unidos and agents of several institutions of the Mexican state took part.”

The faces of the victims of the Ayotzinapa mass kidnapping stare out of posters at the sit-in on Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma Avenue, where activists have demanded justice in the case for years. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

The investigation also found that one of the murdered students, Julio César López Patolzin, was a military informant planted by the Secretariat of National Defense.

“We confirmed that the military commanders of the region did not carry out actions to protect or search for the soldier Julio César López Patolzin, which was their duty,” said Encinas.

While Murillo’s arrest and indictment appear to put Mexico on the path to finally offering justice to the families of the victims, experts say it will likely go no further than appearances. 

“This is totally political,” said security analyst Alejandro Hope. 

Two of the three charges against Murillo will not hold up at trial, Hope said, citing lack of evidence. 

“Yes, there was torture, but you have to show, one, that Murillo knew about it, and two, that he ordered it or tolerated it,” said Hope. “And in what they’ve presented up to now, there isn’t any evidence to show that he did this.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, Murillo’s defense argued “there is not one piece of evidence that proves that he was aware” of the torture exacted on the individuals arrested in the case.

As for the charge of forced disappearance, “they’re extending the definition of the crime to incomprehensible levels,” Hope said. “In the worst of cases, there was negligence on Murillo’s part, but that’s not participation in the act of forced disappearance. It’s the same difference between a murder and someone who carries out a failed investigation of a murder.” 

Hope added that if the charge of forced disappearance was to hold up in court, it would be killed by the legal challenges known in Mexican law as amparos.

“Of course they know that these charges won’t stick, but they’re managing the issue politically,” Hope said. “They need to give some kind of response or show some kind of movement for the families.” 

Members of the Commission for the Truth and Access to Justice of the Ayotzinapa Case did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

A woman checks her phone outside the sit-in where activists demand justice for the 43 victims of the Ayotzinapa mass kidnapping. (Cody Copeland/Courthouse News)

The only charge against the former attorney general that may hold water is that of crimes against the administration of justice, similar to obstruction of justice in the U.S. legal system. It concerns the release of a person of interest in the case without proper documentation. 

“That’s where you could say that maybe the charge could stick, but the others won’t hold up at all,” Hope said.

That crime carries a sentence of 3 to 10 years in prison and a fine that could be as high as the equivalent of 1,100 days of the salary Murillo earned at the time of the offense.

Hours after Murillo’s arrest, the Federal Attorney General’s Office issued 83 arrest warrants for others suspected of being involved in the case, including members of the military, municipal police officers, administrative and judicial authorities and 14 members of Guerreros Unidos. 

None of the 83 other arrest warrants had been executed by the time of Murillo’s hearing, a fact that the government watchdog Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity (MCCI) called “strange” in a piece published Wednesday morning. 

Noting how the prosecution at Murillo’s pretrial detention hearing on Saturday came utterly unprepared, MCCI executive president María Amparo Casar also called the charges politically motivated and asked whether or not subsequent arrests will come. 

For his part, Hope believes the federal government is barking up the wrong tree with regard to the former attorney general.

“They could investigate Murillo for misuse of resources, bribery and other crimes related to corruption, which I assure you would stick, but this, no way,” he said. “Everything they did, the four years of investigations, will all collapse.”

Courthouse News correspondent Cody Copeland is based in Mexico City.

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