Trial may untangle Mexican drug links

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The Independent Online
Was the government and family of the former Mexican president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, in cahoots with the country's drug barons?

Mexicans believe a trial opening in Houston, Texas, today could lift the lid on a Pandora's box tying in the Salinas family and former senior Mexican officials with the drug cartels.

Mario Ruiz Massieu, a deputy attorney-general under Mr Salinas which made him the top man in the anti-narcotics programme, faces a civil trial over $9m (pounds 5.5m) he amassed in a Houston bank account.

Seeking to confiscate the money, United States prosecutors will try to prove it came from pay-offs by druglords. Mr Ruiz Massieu says it came from legitimate business transactions and "bonuses" from Mr Salinas.

US law enforcement sources say prosecution witnesses will link Mr Ruiz Massieu and his late brother, Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, a former secretary- general of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), with the druglords of the Mexican Gulf cartel.

Witnesses will also name Mr Salinas's brother, Raul, and father, also called Raul, a former senator, as taking massive pay-offs to protect the cartel. There is reportedly no evidence suggesting Carlos Salinas, who lives in exile in Ireland, was involved with drug barons. Raul Salinas Jnr and his father deny ties with the narcos.

Mexicans hope the trial may also shed some light on the 1994 assassination of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, who was formerly married to a sister of Carlos Salinas. Raul Salinas Jnr is in jail awaiting trial for allegedly ordering the killing, now believed to have been linked to the multi- million dollar drug trade.

Carlos Salinas named Mario Ruiz Massieu to investigate the murder of his brother but Mario is now suspected of tampering with evidence to protect Raul Salinas. The latter also faces trial for inexplicable wealth. Despite receiving only an official's salary, Mr Salinas was found to have more than $100m in more than 70 Swiss, British and other foreign bank accounts. Mexican prosecutors are investigating whether the money came from drug- trafficking.

After fleeing Mexico three days after Raul Salinas's arrest, Mario Ruiz Massieu was arrested in Newark, New Jersey, in March 1995 for failing to declare $46,000 in cash on a customs form. He has been under house arrest in New Jersey since.

The US federal prosecutors say an aide to Mr Massieu, former diplomat Jorge Stergios, carried suitcases full of dollars to Houston from Mexico City twice a month for his boss in 1994, the last year of Carlos Salinas's term. Prosecution documents say the money was in return for protecting Gulf cartel bosses from the law.

In a deposition, Mr Ruiz Massieu said $500,000 was in bonuses from the Mexican president. Mr Ruiz Massieu said the rest of the $9m was his savings.

A key witness in Houston could be Magdalena Ruiz Pelayo, currently in a US jail for drug trafficking, who claims to have been a private secretary to Raul Salinas Snr. Ms Ruiz has told prosecutors Mr Salinas Snr was a key figure in the Gulf cartel. He denies the allegation and says he has never heard of Ms Ruiz.

Mexican media reported this month that Carlos Salinas's sister, Adriana, had been given a $2m mansion in Mexico by Pablo Escobar, then boss of the Medellin drug cartel in Columbia. Ms Salinas denied the reports.