Federal prosecutors said Friday they had arrested Mexico’s previous administration’s attorney general for alleged abuse in the investigation of the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from a radical teachers’ college.
Prosecutors also announced they had issued arrest warrants in the case for 20 army officers, five local officials, 33 local and 11 state police officers, as well as 14 gang members.
The roundup included the first arrest of a former attorney general in recent history and one of the largest mass arrests ever by civilian prosecutors of Mexican Army soldiers.
Jesus Murillo Karam served as Attorney General from 2012 to 2015, under President Enrique Peña Nieto. The office of current attorney general Alejandro Gertz Manero said Murillo Karam was charged with torture, official misconduct and enforced disappearance.
In 2020, Gertz Manero said Murillo Karam was involved in “orchestrating a massive media ploy” and conducting a “widespread cover-up” in the case.
The arrest came a day after a commission set up to determine what happened said the military bore at least partial responsibility in the case. He said a soldier infiltrated the group of students involved and that the army did not stop the kidnappings even though they knew what was going on.
Corrupt local police, other security forces and members of a trafficking gang abducted the students in the town of Iguala in Guerrero state, although the motive remains unclear eight years later. Their bodies were never found, although burnt bone fragments were matched to three of the students.
Murillo Karam, under pressure to quickly solve the case, announced in 2014 that the students had been killed and their bodies burned in a landfill by members of a drug gang. He called this assumption “historical truth.”
But the investigation included cases of torture, wrongful arrests and mishandling of evidence that have since freed most of the gang members directly involved.
The incident happened near a large military base and independent investigations revealed that the military was aware of what was happening. The students’ families have long called for soldiers to be included in the investigation.
On Thursday, the investigating truth commission said one of the abducted students was a soldier who had infiltrated the college of radical teachers, but the military did not search for him despite having real-time information about the abduction. He said the inaction violated Army protocols for missing soldier cases.
The Department of Defense did not respond to a request for comment.
Soldiers and officers wanted under Friday’s warrants – and other officials, police and gang members – are charged with murder, torture, official misconduct, criminal association and enforced disappearance
It was not immediately clear if all of the suspects faced all charges or if the suspects were among dozens already arrested and charged in previous investigations.
Before reforms to Mexican law, the military had long been allowed to refer soldiers accused of wrongdoing to separate military tribunals. But soldiers must now be tried in civilian courts, if their crimes involve civilians.
The charged soldiers were serving at the base near the location of the abduction in 2014.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, to which both Murillo Karam and Peña Nieto belonged, wrote on its Twitter account that Murillo Karam’s arrest “is more a matter of politics than justice. This action does not help the families of the victims to obtain answers.
Mexican federal prosecutors had previously issued arrest warrants for members of the military and federal police as well as for Tomás Zeron, who at the time of the kidnapping headed the federal investigative agency, the Detective Agency mexican.
Zeron is wanted for torture and covering up enforced disappearances. He fled to Israel and Mexico requested the assistance of the Israeli government for his arrest.
Gertz Manero said that in addition to Zeron’s alleged crimes related to the case, he allegedly stole more than $44 million from the budget of the attorney general’s office.
The motive for the students’ abduction remains a matter of debate.
On September 26, 2014, local Iguala police, organized crime members, and authorities abducted 43 students from buses. Students periodically commandeered buses for transportation.
Murillo Karam said the students were handed over to a drug gang who killed them, cremated their bodies at a dump near Cocula and threw the burnt bone fragments into a river.
Subsequent investigations by independent experts and the attorney general’s office, and corroborated by the truth commission, dismissed the idea that the bodies had been cremated at the Cocula landfill.
There is no evidence that any of the students may still be alive.