Security guard is questioned in Mexico

March 29, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

TIJUANA, Mexico -- Amid increasing indications of a conspiracy, Mexican federal police now believe that a security guard aided the gunman accused of assassinating presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio last week, according to authorities.

Investigators were questioning Tranquilino Sanchez Venegas, a retired former police officer hired to provide crowd control, whom photos and videos of the incident show near Mr. Colosio and accused gunman Mario Aburto Martinez seconds before the fatal shots were fired.

A girlfriend of Mr. Aburto has told police that Mr. Aburto met with Mr. Sanchez in a Tijuana park a week before the March 23 assassination, according to Mexican federal officials, who suspect Mr. Sanchez of clearing a path through the crowd for the gunman.

Although Mr. Aburto is considered the lone gunman, police are investigating "the probable participation of accomplices, co-participants or protectors of Aburto Martinez, as is the case of [Sanchez]," said Deputy Attorney General Rene Gonzalez de la Vega in a statement. "His behavior and his attitudes near the candidate and Aburto Martinez lead us to presume that he participated directly with the accused killer."

These disclosures yesterday provide the strongest support yet for what journalists, politicians and other Mexicans have been asserting for days: that Mr. Colosio, the leading candidate for Mexico's presidency, was the victim of a plot involving more than one person. And the focus of the probe appears to be the possible involvement of members of a security team provided by local officials of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI.

Until now, Mexican authorities had said that Mr. Aburto, 23, acted alone when he emerged from a crowd and shot Mr. Colosio twice at point-blank range after the candidate finished a speech.

But security guard Mr. Sanchez was detained for questioning this weekend because his actions raised investigators' suspicions, U.S. and Mexican sources said. Videotapes and photographs of the assassination, which took place in the sloping dirt plaza of a shantytown, show Mr. Sanchez -- a tall man wearing a baseball cap -- in the crowd just behind Mr. Colosio. On the right, the gunman can be seen approaching and raising the gun to the candidate's head as Mr. Colosio shakes hands with well-wishers.

Police suspect Mr. Sanchez aided Mr. Aburto by leading him through the crowd, according to sources in both nations. "They are reviewing the tapes to see if he's opening a path for Aburto to get closer," one official said.

Moreover, the girlfriend's statement to authorities appears to establish a prior connection between Messrs. Sanchez and Aburto, who in his confession said he practiced for the shooting with a .38-caliber revolver. He also hinted that others were involved, according to witnesses to the interrogation last week.

"The supposed girlfriend of Mario Aburto Martinez said that he and Tranquilino Sanchez Venegas had a meeting a week before in Tijuana," said Hugo Morales, press secretary in the attorney general's office.

Mr. Sanchez is a retired officer of the commercial police, a municipal force that provides security for businesses, federal authorities said. He is described as being in his 50s.

Mr. Sanchez was hired on the morning of the assassination by Rodolfo Riva Palacio Tinajero, a leader of the PRI, for crowd control in Tijuana's impoverished Lomas Taurinas neighborhood authorities said.

In a news release yesterday, the attorney general's office emphasized that Mr. Sanchez had no connection to the commanding officer of Mr. Colosio's personal security force -- members of the Mexican equivalent of the Secret Service, who traveled with the candidate.

Instead, Mr. Sanchez was one of about 45 local guards provided for crowd control, Mexican officials say.

Mr. Sanchez's name, however, does not appear on a typewritten list of guards, American and Mexican sources said. His name was handwritten onto the list, apparently a late addition that has attracted the attention of investigators.

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