Salinas Brother Is Tied by Swiss to Drug Trade
By TIM GOLDEN
MEXICO CITY -- After a nearly three-year inquiry into drug
corruption in Mexico, Swiss police investigators have concluded
that a brother of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari played a
central role in Mexico's cocaine trade, raking in huge bribes to protect the
flow of drugs into the United States.
In a secret 369-page
report, the investigators assert that Salinas's elder
brother, Raúl, used his wide influence in the administration to organize an
elaborate network of protection for drug smugglers. He also channeled
drug money to his brother's presidential campaign, the report alleges.
Salinas de Gortari became President of Mexico in 1988,
Raúl Salinas de Gortari assumed control over practically all drug
shipments through Mexico," the report states. "Through his influence and
bribes paid with drug money, officials of the army and the police
supported and protected the flourishing drug business."
From a low-profile
position in the administration's food-distribution
agency, the report states, Raúl Salinas commandeered Government trucks
and railroad cars to haul cocaine north, skimming payoffs that the Swiss
estimate at upwards of $500 million. On what some of his reputed former
associates referred to as "green light days," he arranged for drug loads to
transit Mexico without concern that they might be checked by the army,
the coast guard or the federal police.
A partial copy
of the report was obtained by The New York Times. It
appears to be based largely on interviews with nearly 90 former drug
traffickers, reputed Salinas associates and other witnesses, most of them
said they expected the report to be the basis for their
Government's seizure in the coming weeks of more than $130 million that
Raúl Salinas deposited in Swiss banks.
Lawyers for Salinas
dismissed the report Friday as the slanderous
product of a Swiss crusade to confiscate what they insisted was a fortune
that their client earned by legitimate means.
"The report is
absolutely false," Salinas's lead attorney, Eduardo Luengo
Creel, said in an interview. "It contains statements, assertions and
situations that do not correspond to the facts. It is a police report. It does
not have the validity of an evaluation by an investigating judge."
"We do not even
know who these people are," Luengo said of the many
confidential informants listed in the document, which Salinas's lawyers
received two months ago. "To accuse someone with anonymous
witnesses is unconstitutional in any country that enjoys the rule of law."
states that Swiss investigators were unable to determine
conclusively what involvement the former President, his father and other
family members might have had in the purportedly illicit activities of Raúl
Some family members,
it implies, were among a group of people around
Raúl Salinas who were implicated in criminal activities. It based that
finding on witnesses it described as "principally credible" but did not
The report says
the investigators did not look further into the matter
because the people mentioned were irrelevant to their inquiry into whether
Salinas's Swiss funds came from illegal activities.
the report adds, somewhat obliquely, "We have to seriously
question the probability that a person with as much power as the
President of Mexico for years did not learn about criminal activities of this
extent, even if his brother was heavily involved." Carlos Salinas has been
living recently in Europe.
The Swiss report
is by far the most exhaustive assessment to date of Raúl
Salinas's reported dealings with the Mexican underworld.
It is clearly a prosecutorial document, one that cites
version of events mostly to show how it appears to
contradict other facts. Because the Swiss seizure of Salinas's assets would
be a civil court action, the report also aims at a considerably lower
threshold of proof than would be required in a criminal case.
was widely rumored to have grown rich on dubious business
dealings during his brother's presidency, but the accusations were almost
never public or specific. Shortly after Carlos Salinas's term ended, in
December 1994, his chosen successor, Ernesto Zedillo, shattered a long
Mexican tradition of impunity for presidential families by authorizing Raúl
Salinas's arrest on charges that he ordered the murder of a leader of the
governing party who was his former brother-in-law.
In the tiny maximum-security
prison cell where Salinas has spent the last
three and a half years, he has been struck by wave after wave of new
allegations. Federal prosecutors in New York are pressing ahead with a
criminal investigation into the possibility that he may have laundered illicit
funds through his accounts at Citibank headquarters in New York. And
after a series of reversals in their murder case, Mexican officials say they
are close to announcing new corruption charges against him.
Much of the Swiss
evidence seems to come from witnesses who are
identified only by pseudonyms like "Ludmilla" and "Juan," and whose
credibility is difficult to judge.
they had arranged the protection of drug shipments with
Salinas directly. Others, including bodyguards, chauffeurs and secretaries,
said they had attended meetings at which they saw Salinas receive
suitcases full of cash from smugglers. Still others, including an American
drug enforcement agent, testified to matters they had learned about
As the true names
of several of the witnesses have leaked out over the
course of the Swiss investigation, Salinas's lawyers have attacked their
accounts. But even when the informants are convicted criminals, the
report often asserts reasons why their claims are credible.
in Switzerland and the United States predicted that the
confidentiality of the sources arrayed against Salinas might well prove a
weak point in the Government's case. If a seizure is ordered and lawyers
for Salinas challenge it in court, as they insist they will, the judge who
evaluates the case will have access to the witnesses' identities but the
lawyers will not.
In contrast to
law enforcement officials in the United States who have
studied Mexican drug corruption for years, the small team of Swiss
federal police investigators had virtually no background in the subject. But
since their arrest of Salinas's third wife, Paulina Castañón, as she tried to
retrieve phony passports with her husband's picture from a Swiss
safe-deposit box in November 1995, the Swiss detectives managed to
scour American court files and jail cells for anyone who might claim a link
to their target.
In at least a
few such cases, United States law-enforcement officials have
acknowledged, those informants had been ignored or misused by
prosecutors in the United States until the Swiss sought them out. The
Swiss report also cites some confidential witnesses who are described as
people who once worked or socialized around Salinas, and it contains
what two American investigators described as a meticulous analysis of his
"For us, what
they have would be a triable case," said a United States
law-enforcement official who is familiar with the Swiss evidence. "It
wouldn't be a slam-dunk, but you could definitely take it to court."
For the family
of a former President who was once celebrated as the bold
architect of a new relationship between Mexico and the United States --
the man who championed the North American Free Trade Agreement
and brought to power a new generation of Ivy League-educated
technocrats -- the report paints a devastating portrait.
former associates of the family, the report contends
that both Raúl and Carlos were "introduced" to the drug trade in the late
1970's by their father, Raúl Salinas Lozano, a former Government
minister. It did not make clear what that introduction involved.
Salinas Lozano, with his political influence, would have preferred
Raúl at the head of the Government in Mexico," it continues, quoting an
informant close to the family to present a dark new twist on an old story
of brotherly ambition. "But because Raúl Salinas de Gortari's infamous
earlier life would not have permitted him to hold a high-level government
position, the father decided to support his son Carlos instead."
Long before Carlos
Salinas began to make his name in the mid-1980's as
Mexico's young, Harvard-trained Budget Minister, the report suggests,
his father had built a friendship with one of the legendary figures of
Mexico's north-border drug trade, Juan N. Guerra. Such a relationship
has been reported in the past, and angrily denied by Raúl Salinas Lozano.
The eldest son
of the one-time border Senator -- Salinas Lozano was a
dominant figure in the politics of his home state of Nuevo León -- and a
nephew of the trafficker Juan García Ábrego, inherited the connection, the
Quoting a series
of former drug traffickers, the Swiss investigators state
that Raúl Salinas began arranging protection for both García Ábrego and
traffickers of the Medellín cartel in Colombia even before his brother
One of those
traffickers, identified as "Giuseppe," appears to be José
Manuel Ramos, a former high-level Medellín cocaine distributor who
operated out of northern Mexico and Texas until his arrest in 1990. Three
American law-enforcement officials familiar with his case described
Ramos, who remains in prison, as highly credible.
Both Ramos and
his wife, Luz Salazar, (the "Ludmilla" of the report)
referred the Swiss detectives to payment ledgers and other documents
that had been seized at the time of their arrest. According to the report,
the documents helped to corroborate that from 1987 to 1989, they paid
Salinas $28.7 million on behalf of their boss, José Gonzalo Rodríguez
trafficker who gushes with information about Raúl
Salinas, Marco Enrique Torres, has weaker bona fides.
While the report
notes some corroboration of Torres's account by an
F.B.I. agent who pursued his case, Orlando Muñoz, it fails to note
Salinas's denials that he ever knew Torres. Nor does it raise questions
about the more improbable parts of his tale of a long criminal friendship
between a mid-level drug smuggler and a member of the Mexican political
Once Carlos Salinas
became President at the end of 1988, the report
states, his brother's power to assure the safe northward passage of drugs