By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
MEXICO CITY, Nov. 18 -- A senior Mexican police official who worked as the country's liaison with Interpol was arrested Tuesday as part of an ongoing investigation into information leaks from top law enforcement authorities to the nation's notorious drug cartels.
Ricardo Gutiérrez Vargas was director for International Police Affairs and Interpol at the Federal Investigative Agency, the Mexican version of the FBI. Interpol is the world's largest international police organization and is charged with combating terrorism, money laundering and drug trafficking. An official such as Gutiérrez could have had access to reams of sensitive intelligence gathered by Mexican and international law enforcement.
Gutiérrez was placed under house arrest pending the outcome of the investigation.
The latest detention, announced Tuesday night by the Mexican federal attorney general's office, is part of the government's "Operation Clean House," launched after the January arrest of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva. He leads a brutal drug cartel centered in Sinaloa state, which is battling with rivals and police for cocaine-trafficking routes into the United States.
In the last year, about 4,000 people have died in the drug wars. Mexican President Felipe Calderón has made confronting the cartels a centerpiece of his administration.
That the cartels may have penetrated Interpol is an indication of how hard the fight against the traffickers will be -- and of the level of corruption within Mexican law enforcement. The United States recently committed $400 million to aid in that battle, but many U.S. law enforcement officials remain wary of their Mexican counterparts, fearing that shared information flows quickly to cartel leaders.
According to a June news release from Interpol, Gutiérrez headed the organization's National Central Bureau for Mexico. Though he was not employed by Interpol, the release described the head of the National Central Bureau as "usually one of the highest-ranking law enforcement officials in the country."
Operation Clean House has swept up other law enforcement officials. This month, Rodolfo de la Guardia García, who served on Interpol's executive committee, was placed under house arrest as investigators looked into the possibility that he was on a cartel payroll.