Fri, Jul 20, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Mexico to probe federal agents' role in drug case

AP , WASHINGTON

Mexico says it will investigate whether its federal agents protected a Chinese-Mexican businessman tied to the largest seizure of drug cash in world history, while the businessman's lawyers told a Washington news conference they fear for their client's life if he is returned to Mexico.

Zhenli Ye Gon and his lawyers said about US$150 million of the more than US$205 million found hidden at Ye Gon's Mexico City mansion in March was a political slush fund for last year's presidential campaign of President Felipe Calderon, who narrowly won. They released no evidence to support that claim.

His US lawyer, Martin McMahon, said he would ask that Ye Gon be given asylum in the US and asked for US congressional hearings into his client's claims. Ye Gon's lawyers also said they offered to have him submit to an interview by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, but US officials have not responded.

"We're talking about a major political party whose operatives hid US$150 million," McMahon told the news conference in Washington. "They failed to disclose that in their election campaign reporting. We're putting out there a very serious charge. If he goes back to Mexico, he's going to be tortured. ... We're convinced he faces death."

However, Ye Gon, speaking to the news conference by telephone, said he was convinced Calderon himself knew nothing of the alleged scheme.

He said that men who had identified themselves as linked to Calderon's National Action Party forced him to hold the cash, and "they always told me it was for the political campaign."

Calderon has called the accusations "pure fiction."

Ye Gon is charged in Mexico with drug trafficking, money laundering and weapons possession for allegedly importing 19 tonnes of a pseudoephedrine compound used to make methamphetamine -- charges that he denies.

Although Mexico has requested Ye Gon's extradition, US officials have not detained him.

Also Wednesday, the Mexican attorney general's office said it is probing whether Mexican federal agents protected the businessman or extorted money from him, allegations that have been raised in the Mexican media.

Key details in Ye Gon's version of events seem contradictory, unclear or unverifiable, and a senior US anti-drug official said he knew of no evidence that the Calderon administration -- which has sent troops into the streets to fight drug cartels -- has links to organized crime.

In the news conference, Ye Gon stood by his claim that a Mexican official, Javier Lozano Alarcon, now Mexico's labor secretary, was the man who forced him to hold the money -- an accusation that Lozano has forcefully denied.

Ye Gon also confirmed that during an interview about the allegations in May, he was shown two photos, one of which he identified as being the Mexican official.

"I know that he is the labor secretary," Ye Gon said.

Ning Ye, the Ye Gon lawyer who went public with his client's claims this month by releasing a letter to the Mexican government that named the labor secretary, also said he stood by the accusations "because this is the truth."

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