Mexico arrests state politician, links him to drug cartels

MEXICO CITY — A former mayor of Cancun who was running for governor of his Caribbean state laundered cash for two drug cartels, prosecutors charged Wednesday, a possible new sign of the taint of narcotics on Mexican politics.

Police arrested Gregorio Sanchez Martinez, who was running for governor of Quintana Roo, at the resort's airport late Tuesday.

Sanchez moved millions of dollars in suspicious funds through his bank accounts, a spokesman for the federal Attorney General's Office, Ricardo Najera, said at a news conference early Wednesday.

"We are certain that many people around him are also involved," Najera said.

He linked Sanchez to the Beltran Leyva and Los Zetas drug cartels and said Sanchez "provided them information and protection to facilitate their illicit activities."

As federal police put Sanchez on a plane from Cancun, the candidate sent a string of short messages on his Twitter account, claiming his innocence.

"Why now?" he said in one Tweet, referring to his arrest. "Because we are winning."

Quintana Roo and nine other states hold elections July 4.

Mexico's Caribbean coast serves as a major transit point for cocaine that's processed in the Andean region and shipped to U.S. markets.

Mexico extradited a former governor of Quintana Roo, Mario Villanueva, on May 8 to stand trial in U.S. courts on charges that he helped drug traffickers smuggle more than 200 tons of cocaine through his state when he was in power in the 1990s. Villanueva is the highest-level Mexican politician ever extradited to the United States.

Prosecutors have had their sights on Sanchez and his top advisers in Cancun City Hall for more than a year. In March 2009, prosecutors arrested his security adviser, Boris Del Valle Alonso, a Cuban, and charged him with links to Los Zetas, the onetime enforcer branch of the Gulf drug cartel that now operates independently.

Other Quintana Roo officials in Cancun also have been arrested, including the former police chief and the head of the city jail, both linked to the torture murder of a retired army brigadier general who'd been hired to combat drug traffickers in the Cancun area.

A top politician in the alliance that supports Sanchez's candidacy, Jesus Ortega Martinez of the opposition Revolutionary Democratic Party, accused prosecutors Wednesday of filing the charges to give electoral advantage to the party of President Felipe Calderon.

"We will not permit — and we should not permit, for the health of the country — that judicial processes be utilized for political ends," Ortega Martinez said.

The government's failure to prosecute low-level politicians successfully in the past has given rise to questions about whether judicial incompetence or political meddling is to blame.

In May of last year, soldiers in the Pacific coast state of Michoacan arrested 10 mayors for alleged ties to a local drug gang, La Familia Michoacana. Prosecutors failed to mount credible cases against any of them, and all 10 have been freed.


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