Former Official Wanted by Mexico Takes Refuge in Israel

TEL AVIV — A former prime Mexican official accused of compromising the investigation of a infamous mass abduction has taken refuge in Israel whereas the extradition case towards him is mired in a diplomatic tussle over Israel’s remedy of Palestinians, Israeli and Mexican officers say.

The Mexican authorities have accused the official, Tomás Zerón de Lucio, the previous director of Mexico’s equal of the F.B.I., of abduction, torture and tampering with proof in the investigation into the disappearance of 43 college students in 2014, and of embezzling about $50 million in state funds in one other case.

Mr. Zerón, who says the costs are false and politically motivated, has utilized for asylum in Israel, the place he has lived for almost two years.

Israel has not acted on both the extradition request or the asylum declare, a lot to the consternation of Mexican officers, human rights organizations and the households of the bloodbath victims, who’re nonetheless looking for the reality about their family members’ disappearance in southern Mexico in 2014.

Israel has not commented publicly on the case, however a senior Israeli official stated that it was being slow-walked as “tit-for-tat diplomacy” towards Mexico, which has supported United Nations inquiries into allegations of Israeli warfare crimes towards Palestinians.

“Why would we help Mexico?” the official stated, talking on situation of anonymity to supply a candid view of a diplomatic dispute.

The official additionally stated that there could also be benefit in Mr. Zerón’s asylum declare, which was nonetheless being investigated.

Mr. Zerón, the previous chief of Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency, was greatest recognized for main the marketing campaign that led to the 2014 seize of the drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán, generally known as “El Chapo.”

As one of many nation’s prime legislation enforcement officers, Mr. Zerón additionally led the investigation into the kidnapping and presumed bloodbath of 43 college students from a academics’ school in Ayotzinapa, in Guerrero state, on Sept. 26, 2014. The college students had been compelled off buses by municipal cops in the town of Iguala, taken away in police autos and by no means seen once more.

Even amid the rampant drug-cartel violence wracking Mexico on the time, the case shocked the nation and has turn out to be a logo of corruption in its justice system.

A protest final 12 months in Mexico City demanding additional investigation into what occurred to the lacking college students and why. Credit…José Pazos/EPA, through Shutterstock

Under stress to unravel the crime by Mexico’s president on the time, Enrique Peña Nieto, who had promised to crack down on crime and impunity, Mr. Zerón’s investigation discovered that the Iguala cops had been working with a prison group that killed the scholars, burned their our bodies and disposed of their ashes in a river.

But a panel of worldwide investigators discredited his investigation, discovering that essential testimony was obtained beneath torture, proof was mishandled and promising leads ignored. In explicit, the presence of troopers and federal cops on the scene was dismissed by Mr. Zerón’s investigation, which portrayed the assault as a strictly native matter involving a corrupt native police power.

When the present president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, took workplace in 2018, he promised to reopen the case. Since then, fragments of the stays of two of the scholars have been discovered and the federal government has sought the arrest of dozens of individuals in reference to the case, together with Mr. Zerón.

Mr. Zerón was reported to have fled to Canada in 2019. That September, one other Israeli official stated, he flew to Israel, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Mexico. In December 2019, when his vacationer visa expired, he requested political asylum, contending that the costs towards him are false and a part of an effort by the present president to settle scores along with his predecessor, based on senior Israeli officers aware of his software.

Mr. Zerón’s precise whereabouts just isn’t recognized and he couldn’t be reached for remark.

The Israeli officers stated that the request was into consideration and attributed the delay to the big numbers of asylum requests Israel receives. When Mexican officers requested for Mr. Zerón’s extradition final 12 months, their request put the asylum case on maintain, Israeli officers stated.

But not less than a part of the rationale for Israel’s delay might don’t have anything to do with Mr. Zerón or the info of the bloodbath.

The website the place the stays of one of many college students had been discovered final 12 months close to Iguala, in Guerrero state.Credit…Henry Romero/Reuters

The senior Israeli official cited the insurance policies of the López Obrador administration, which has repeatedly supported resolutions criticizing Israel on the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, together with selections to analyze Israel’s killing of Palestinian protesters in Gaza in 2018 and the killing of civilians in Gaza throughout a quick warfare towards Hamas in May.

The official stated that Israel had no curiosity in complying with Mexico’s extradition request after its hostile actions towards Israel in Geneva. The reluctance to cooperate with Mexico, the official stated, was an extension of a so-called tit-for-tat coverage begun beneath Israel’s earlier prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to diplomatically penalize nations that opposed his authorities’s insurance policies.

The official additionally stated it was potential that elements of Mr. Zerón’s asylum software had been legitimate. Just as Mexico is punishing Israel for crimes it didn’t commit, the official stated, it could be prosecuting Mr. Zerón for political causes.

Israel’s Foreign and Justice ministries declined requests to touch upon the case.

Mexico’s beneath secretary for human rights, Alejandro Encinas, dismissed the concept the Zerón case was political.

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“What political persecution?” Mr. Encinas stated in an interview. “There is a video that’s public where this guy is torturing someone and threatening him with death. And that’s not a matter of speculation or political persecution of anyone.”

He contended that Mr. Zerón had connections to highly effective Israeli corporations that helped him flee Mexico.

While in workplace, Mr. Zerón approved the acquisition of tens of thousands and thousands of in surveillance techniques from non-public intelligence corporations. The authorities used one of many surveillance applications, Pegasus, developed by Israel’s NSO Group to struggle crime and terrorism, to focus on journalists, attorneys and activists, an investigation by The New York Times discovered.

Mexico additionally deployed the Pegasus spyware and adware towards the group of worldwide investigators introduced in to unravel the Ayotzinapa bloodbath, a part of a marketing campaign by the federal government to thwart that inquiry.

Mr. Encinas stated that a few of these corporations, together with NSO, have aided Mr. Zerón since he left Mexico. He didn’t present any direct proof of that, and The Times was unable to verify it. A spokeswoman for NSO stated that the corporate had by no means met with or helped Mr. Zerón both earlier than or after he left Mexico.

Mexico can be investigating whether or not Mr. Zerón embezzled greater than 1.1 billion pesos, about $50 million, earmarked for the acquisition of protection and intelligence gear that, in some instances, was by no means delivered. It just isn’t clear whether or not these offers concerned the Israeli intelligence corporations.

What occurred that night time in Guerrero and why stay a thriller. The present Mexican authorities continues to be investigating and is anticipated to current its conclusions in September.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, middle, promised to reopen the case of the lacking college students when he took workplace in 2018.Credit…Edgard Garrido/Reuters

Leaked transcripts of the investigation printed lately in Mexican information media recommend drug cartel, working with the police and the army, might have mistakenly thought the scholars belonged to a rival cartel.

Mario González Hernández, whose son, César Manuel González Hernández, is without doubt one of the lacking college students, stated that Mr. Zerón sought to create a story that might enable President Peña Nieto to place the bloodbath behind him whereas avoiding implicating federal officers.

“He wanted to cover up the role of government officials who were involved in the attack, to cover the truth about the police involvement, the military involvement,” Mr. Hernández stated, and to guard these colleagues from prosecution.

Kate Doyle, the director of the Mexico Project on the Washington-based National Security Archive, who’s investigating the case, says the households received’t have solutions till Mr. Zerón might be questioned.

“Zerón is part of a conspiracy of silence,” she stated. “It’s a conspiracy that for almost seven years has prevented 43 families from knowing true facts about their sons’ disappearance. And until Zerón is called to account, the silence will persist, and the fate of the boys will remain a mystery.”

Ronen Bergman reported from Tel Aviv, and Oscar Lopez from Mexico City.