Mexico Extradites Key Witness in Case Against Generals

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Mexico has extradited a former leader of the Beltran Leyva Organization to the US, less than two weeks after the arrest of four high-ranking army officials he has accused of cooperating with the drug trafficking group.

Sergio Villarreal Barragan, alias “El Grande,” was taken into custody by US Marshals at the Mexico City international airport on Tuesday, EFE reported.

El Grande, who ranked second in the Beltran Leyva Organization, is wanted by a Texas federal court for criminal conspiracy, money laundering, and drug trafficking. He was captured by Mexican marines in September 2010.

Milenio reported that part of the case against four high-ranking army officers (three of them generals) arrested this month on suspicion of collaborating with the Beltran Leyvas is based on testimony from El Grande.

InSight Crime Analysis

The timing of El Grande’s extradition is noteworthy, coming nearly two years after his capture, and less than two weeks after the scandal broke over the military arrests. He is the first leader of the Beltran Leyva Organization to be extradited to the United States, ahead of his former colleagues Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “La Barbie,” who was captured in November 2010, and Alfredo Beltran Leyva, alias “El Mochomo,” arrested in 2008.

As Milenio points out, though El Grande may be able to testify over video link, there is a poor record of witnesses continuing to collaborate with Mexican justice once they have been sent to the US. The case of the three generals and the lieutenant colonel who have been detained could turn into the biggest corruption scandal of the Calderon presidency, and has·spawned many questions and conspiracy theories, with some connecting it to the upcoming presidential elections.

Extraditions to the United States have increased dramatically under the administration of Felipe Calderon, drawing criticism from some who say it undermines the Mexican justice system. However, US prisons are better able to protect inmates, which could give them more incentive to testify against former associates without fear of reprisals.

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