Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Argentine team IDs victims in Mexico kidnapping case

Experts from the Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropology (EAAF) concluded that 12 bodies found in a mass grave in Mexico last August correspond to a group of young people who were kidnapped from a bar in the capital’s upscale Zona Rosa district, Mexican prosecutors said.

“The results of the external investigation conducted by Argentine specialists confirm the findings released by this institution and by the Attorney General of the Republic’s Office on the full identification of the Heaven bar victims,” the Federal District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

The remains of 13 people were found in a clandestine grave in Tlalmanalco, in Mexico state, in August last year. Local investigators said 12 of them had been abducted from the Heaven bar three months earlier but failed to identify the thirteenth body.

The Argentine team was called to aid Mexican experts after some of the victims’ relatives expressed doubts about local investigators’ conclusions and demanded that foreign experts examine the remains.

On Sunday, after the Argentine experts concluded that the remains belonged to the victims of the Heaven bar kidnapping, members of the team met with relatives to explain the methodology they used to identify the bodies.

The relatives said they trusted the team’s conclusions but criticized the work of Mexican investigators.

They claimed that they had initially been shown photos of remains that didn’t belong to their children.

Four of the bodies were released to relatives and nine others were kept at the coroner’s office at the request of family members until the final identification could be completed.

Police believe that the mass kidnapping was in reprisal for the murder of Horacio Vite Angel, a reputed member of the La Unión de Insurgentes drug gang, by the rival La Unión de Tepito gang.

Tepito is the crime-ridden downtown Mexico City neighbourhood where most of the victims lived.

The case

The Heaven bar kidnapping occurred in May last year, at midday, on a sunny Sunday in an upscale district in the heart of Mexico City. Five cars pulled up outside the after-hours club known as Heaven — located just a block from the federal police administrative offices and the US Embassy — and eight men and four women who had been partying all night left and climbed inside, grainy surveillance video shows.

Then they vanished.

After more than two months during which the Mexico City police achieved little progress, federal investigators were brought in. Just a few weeks after they had started working on the case, they discovered 13 bodies — the 12 young victims and an unidentified person — on a ranch 50 kilometres away from where they disappeared.

Tattoos and dental work allowed investigators to identify many of the victims of the Heaven club almost immediately but relatives of the 12 received the news with mistrust. They accused Mexico City’s law-enforcement authorities of moving slowly on the sensitive investigation, perhaps because they were afraid of what it might reveal.

Police involvement

With some 100,000 police officers in the capital, Mexico’s largest cartels have little public presence in the country’s capital. The retail drug business is booming, however, and local drug gangs collectively make US$100-200 million a day selling marijuana, cocaine and hallucinogens.

Investigators believe dealers from the poor eastern neighbourhood of Tepito had been trying to move in on the Unión de Insurgentes, a gang that’s named after the city’s prosperous main north-south thoroughfare and controls sales in virtually all of the nightspots in the wealthiest parts of the city.

The gang in control hires women as spies to flirt with potential rivals looking to sell drugs on their territory, and valets are used as lookouts, investigators said. Corrupt police with annual salaries of less than US$10,000 are paid to turn a blind eye.

Around 20 people have been arrested in connection to the case, with four police officers among them, the prosecutor’s office said.

Family ties

Of the 12 victims, at least some had family ties to a Tepito gang.

One, Jerzy Ortíz, has a father, Jorge, who is currently imprisoned for extortion, organized crime, homicide and robbery.

Another victim was Said Sánchez, whose father is serving a 23-year prison sentence for similar crimes.

Surveillance camera footage that could have helped solve the mystery disappeared eight days after the kidnapping. And even when families started to report the missing day after the kidnapping, nothing happened until four days later when the relatives blocked streets in a public protest.

Even then the case seemed to be going slowly, with leads turning up and immediately going cold, and Mexico City officials repeatedly emphasizing that the case was no sign of a broader problem of insecurity in the capital.

“They have many elements, many people, but where are the victims?” Leticia Ponce, mother of 16-year-old Jerzy Ortíz, one of the missing, asked in July. “Are they really trying to find them?”

Wednesday 07 May 2014


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