MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican judge on Wednesday ordered the release of a retired army general accused of aiding a drug cartel after federal prosecutors dropped the organized crime charges against him, citing a lack of evidence.
Retired Gen. Tomas Angeles Dauahare has been held in the Altiplano maximum security prison near Mexico City since last year, when he arrested and accused of links to the Beltran Leyva cartel.
An official with the Attorney General's Office said prosecutors dropped the charges because the witness testimony was not enough to sustain their case. He said Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam studied the case, which was begun during former President Felipe Calderon's administration, and concluded that "witness testimony didn't prove guilt."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to discuss the case.
Angeles Dauahare's lawyer, Ricardo Sanchez, said prosecutors acted responsibly because there was no proof that linked the former general to the Beltran Leyvas.
Angeles Dauahare, who was assistant defense secretary from 2006 to 2008, was one of four generals and a lieutenant colonel arrested in the case based on the testimony of two drug informants. The official didn't say whether the other four defendants would also be released.
Some security analysts said the case against the retired general could have been political revenge for his open criticism of Calderon's military crackdown on drug traffickers and because he took part in an event organized by the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, amid a presidential campaign. Mexican media speculated at the time that then PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto was considering him as a possible candidate to head the Defense Department if he won the presidency.
The two witnesses in the case were Sergio Villarreal Barragan, who was part of the leadership of the Beltran Leyva cartel, and another man who hasn't been identified but who was the key accuser in the case against former drug czar Noe Ramirez Mandujano. A judge ordered the release of Ramirez Mandujano on Monday after determining the witness had given false testimony and prosecutors had likely fabricated evidence.
Charged in the same case is U.S.-born drug trafficker Edgar Valdes Villarreal, alias "La Barbie," who worked for the Beltran Leyva cartel until the gang begun to break up with the death of leader Arturo Beltran Leyva in a 2009 shootout with marines. The cartel was one of the main targets of the Calderon administration and several of its leaders were arrested or killed.
Angeles Dauahare was the highest-ranking army official arrested for alleged links to drug traffickers since three-star-Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo was detained in 1997. Gutierrez Rebollo, then head of Mexico's anti-drug agency, was later convicted and sentenced to 71 years in prison for protecting the Juarez drug cartel.
Angeles Dauahare's wife, Leticia Zepeda, said she expected her husband to be released in the coming hours.
"We're really happy because we're finally seeing justice being served with so many innocent people being held in there," Zepeda said. "Our hope is that this could open doors to other people."
The Mexican government has been repeatedly criticized for basing many of its criminal cases on the testimony provided by protected witnesses without verifying the information.