Mexico’s Operation Cleanup Has Been a Mess

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2013

Operation Cleanup was a showcase effort to stamp out corruption within Mexico’s elite organized-crime bureau. Twenty-five top law-enforcement officials were arrested in the weeks after the operation was launched in 2008, most accused of acting as highly paid moles for a leading drug cartel, the very villains the officials were supposed to be chasing.

Today, the cases against them are a shambles, yet another example of Mexico’s systemic corruption and a weak judiciary unable to fix it. The operation is also the most high-profile prosecution among the many that fell apart under the government of President Felipe Calderon, which ended nearly five months ago.

This week, a federal judge freed the highest-ranking of those ensnared by Operation Cleanup. Noe Ramirez Mandujano, Mexico’s former anti-drug czar, was absolved and released from prison, where he had awaited this outcome for 4 1/2 years.

In a particularly scathing ruling issued Monday, Judge Mauricio Fernandez de la Mora said government prosecutors used sketchy testimony from unidentified “protected witnesses” who lied, made up evidence and were clearly coached.

One of the government’s “star” protected witnesses, code-named Jennifer, had testified that Ramirez received $450,000 from the once-powerful Beltran Leyva cartel in exchange for inside information, including the timing of raids and sensitive security details. Fernandez indicated that the story seems to have been fabricated.

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Of the 25 officials arrested in 2008, only 13 were formally charged. Of those, eight have been released, including the most senior officials in the group. Four are in prison awaiting judicial rulings on their cases and a fifth was acquitted of charges related to Operation Cleanup.

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