Sandra Avila Beltrán, better known to the Mexican media as the “Queen of the Pacific,” and her love interest, Colombian Juan Diego Espinosa Ramírez, alias “El Tigre,” were acquitted last week by a Mexican federal court of drug trafficking and organized crime charges.
Avila Beltrán and Espinosa (who was a member of the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia) were arrested in September of 2007. Authorities accused them of working with the Sinaloa cartel and the Norte del Valle cartel to smuggle illicit drugs into the United States.
Espinosa was extradited to the United States and has cooperated with U.S. authorities. But Avila Beltrán’s extradition has stalled, and the possibility she could go free could put a thorn into U.S.-Mexican relations.
Mexico’s El Proceso reports that a judge of Mexico’s 18th District Court last Friday ruled that the evidence presented by the Attorney General “did not establish the circumstances of time, manner, place and occasion” in which the crimes were committed.
Despite her acquittal, Avila Beltrán will remain in prison while she awaits the decision about her extradition.
Mexico has extradited over 350 suspected criminals to the United States since President Felipe Calderón took power in December 2006. The list includes some of the most sought after cartel leaders, such as Osiel Cárdenas, the former head of the Gulf Cartel, extradited in 2007.
But for every top-level capo extradited from Mexico, there’s an equally high-level cartel member who the U.S. has requested that remains in a Mexican jail or whose extradition request was rejected outright. This includes the case of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, a leader of the Beltrán Leyva Organization, who was arrested in January 2008.