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  Mexican Politician Convicted Of Murder

By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, January 22, 1999; Page A01

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 21—Raul Salinas de Gortari, older brother of former president Carlos Salinas, was found guilty today of ordering the murder of a top politician four years ago, capping a long investigation and trial that rocked Mexico's political establishment and alternately titillated and disgusted its citizens. Salinas, 52, was sentenced to 50 years in prison with no possibility of parole.

The judicial verdict was a triumph for Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar and the administration of President Ernesto Zedillo, which made the arrest and trial of Raul Salinas a symbol of change and a test of legal reform in Mexico. Officials say the case reflects a new government willingness to hold even the most powerful people here accountable under the law.

The verdict came as a surprise to some legal analysts and commentators, who considered the state's case against Salinas weak and circumstantial. The investigation was marred by numerous irregularities, including the dismissal and eventual arrest of a leading investigator who was accused of fabricating evidence against Salinas by planting a body on one of his properties and paying witnesses -- including a reputed soothsayer -- to lie about it.

But Federal Judge Ricardo Ojeda Bohorquez said in a written explanation of his verdict that evidence "logically and judicially interwoven" proved that Salinas was "the intellectual author" of the September 1994 killing of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, the secretary general and second-ranking official in Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, known by its initials as the PRI. Ruiz Massieu also had once been married to Adriana Salinas, sister of Raul and Carlos Salinas.

A judicial aide, jostled by a frenetic crowd of journalists and camera crews, read the verdict and sentence late today at the judge's office near Almoloya Prison outside Mexico City, where Salinas has been incarcerated and where his trial had been conducted for nearly four years. The announcement was carried live on Mexican radio and television.

Salinas's attorney, Raul Gonzalez, said his client will appeal the sentence. "He is absolutely prepared to continue the fight; he not only is not guilty, but is innocent of all crimes," Gonzalez said.

Since his arrest in February 1995, opinion polls have shown that most people believe Salinas was involved in the Ruiz Massieu killing and that his brother, Carlos, knew it. The former president, who has never been charged with any wrongdoing, went into self-imposed exile 12 days after his brother's arrest and now spends most of his time in Ireland, which has no extradition treaty with Mexico. Today, the two brothers are among the most vilified figures in Mexico.

Judge Ojeda wrote that the case was a legal one, not political, and that he had not been swayed by political pressure in making his decision. He added: "Society demands that the judicial authority in our country not allow impunity."

Raul Salinas, arguably the most powerful official ever formally charged with a crime in modern Mexico, is still under investigation on a forgery charge -- he allegedly used fake passports to travel overseas and deposit money in foreign bank accounts -- and a charge of illicit enrichment, meaning investigators believe he has more money than can reasonably be explained by his $192,000-a-year salary as a top civil servant in Mexico's government food agency during his brother's presidency. Mexican investigators say they have traced about $250 million to Salinas in accounts here and overseas.

Another illegal enrichment case against Salinas had been dismissed previously, along with charges of tax evasion and money laundering. He remains under investigation on another charge of laundering drug money, according to officials in the Mexican attorney general's office.

Separately, Salinas has been the target of a drug-money laundering investigation involving authorities in at least 10 countries, including the United States. Three months ago, the Swiss attorney general seized $114 million that Salinas had deposited in numbered Swiss bank accounts under false names, asserting the funds were payoffs from drug kingpins whom Salinas had protected during his brother's 1988-94 administration.

The U.S. General Accounting Office recently issued a report saying that Citibank in New York violated many of its own internal regulations in helping Salinas transfer millions of dollars from Mexico through New York to foreign accounts.

Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu was shot and killed on Sept. 28, 1994, in front of a Mexico City hotel, where he had attended a meeting of PRI officials. The gunman, Daniel Aguilar Trevino, was arrested moments later. Subsequently, others involved in an apparent conspiracy to kill Ruiz Massieu told investigators that Raul Salinas was the mastermind of the assassination.

The chief prosecutor in that case, Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Ramos Rivera, declared during the trial that Salinas had Ruiz Massieu killed because he represented a threat to the Salinas family's political power and because of bad blood stemming from Ruiz Massieu's divorce from Salinas's sister.

In the 16-page explanation in support of his verdict, Judge Ojeda said that the prosecution did not "solidly prove the motives of the accused for ordering the homicide," but that given other evidence, particularly phone records and compelling witness testimony, a motive was "irrelevant." Nevertheless, he wrote, "general conflicts" between the two men -- the divorce as well as run-ins between the two when Salinas was head of the food agency and Ruiz Massieu was governor of the state of Guerrero from 1987 to 1993 -- might have played a role.

The killing was one of three sensational assassinations in Mexico in the mid-1990s. The slayings -- along with a peasant rebellion in the southern state of Chiapas and a botched currency devaluation that soured the economy -- rocked Mexico and caused worried foreign investors to question the political, economic and social stability of America's southern neighbor and second-biggest trading partner.

Despite the prosecution's victory today, the investigation and trial have left a number of questions unresolved. Principal among those is whether Mario Ruiz Massieu, brother of the murder victim, helped cover up Raul Salinas's role in the killing.

Late in his term as president, Carlos Salinas appointed Mario Ruis Massieu as a special prosecutor to investigate the assassination. A few months later, he resigned that post, saying his investigation was being blocked by ruling party power brokers. Subsequently, however, Mexican investigators declared they had uncovered evidence that Ruiz Massieu had altered witnesses' statements to delete numerous references to Raul Salinas's role in the slaying. He has denied the accusation.

Ruiz Massieu was arrested in Newark in March 1994 and has been held under house arrest there despite Mexico's repeated efforts in U.S. courts to have him returned to Mexico City for trial. In 1997, a federal judge and jury in Houston confiscated $9 million from a Texas bank account of Ruiz Massieu, concluding the funds were proceeds of the illicit drug trade.

Another mystery is the whereabouts of former PRI federal legislator Manuel Munoz Rocha, who allegedly helped Raul Salinas plan and carry out the killing. Prosecutors say they have linked Munoz Rocha to Salinas and the slaying through phone records, credit card receipts and an $80,000 payment made to him by Raul Salinas.

In his explanation of the verdict, Judge Ojeda said he believes Munoz Rocha was a co-conspirator in the slaying. Munoz Rocha has not been seen since the assassination, and many officials here believe he is dead.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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