Mexican drug war crippled, aide says Corrupt official supposedly gave key information to criminals

February 27, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEXICO CITY -- Much of Mexico's anti-drug strategy -- from informants' names to intelligence methods developed over the years -- has now passed into the hands of criminals as a result of the alleged corruption of this nation's top anti-narcotics official, a former senior official declared yesterday.

The comments by Francisco Molina Ruiz, who was Mexico's drug czar until December, were the strongest public indication yet that Mexico's anti-narcotics fight is in a shambles and could take years to rebuild.

U.S. officials have asserted that they did not pass on sensitive information to Gen. Jose de Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, who was arrested last week and accused of working for the nation's leading drug trafficker even as he headed Mexico's version of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

But Molina Ruiz's comments were backed up by DEA chief Thomas Constantine. He said the damage from the Mexican scandal appeared to be worse than that done by Aldrich Ames in the CIA spy scandal. U.S. officials, he said, are trying desperately to assess "who we can trust" to try to rebuild a critical anti-drug effort. "My sense is he [Gutierrez] knew everything that was going on and he used everything he knew," Constantine told the Los Angeles Times.

The officials' comments came amid what may be Mexico's worst drug scandal ever. Just weeks after U.S. officials expressed optimism that they would soon capture leading Mexican traffickers, the anti-drug effort is now paralyzed, authorities say.

The attorney general's office in Mexico has admitted that this nation's justice system has all but collapsed. Meanwhile, the country is awash in reports of drug corruption involving current and former government officials.

As a result, Washington for the first time is considering denying Mexico its customary full "certification" as a partner in fighting drugs. Mexican officials have warned that such a decision could sorely strain relations.

Molina Ruiz said in an interview that years of painstaking efforts to develop a counter-narcotics program appear to have been destroyed by Gutierrez's alleged corruption.

He said he gave the general a trove of sensitive information before he left the post last December -- information that he believes was passed on to drug lords.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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