WASHINGTON (AP) — The Mexican court that freed drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero seriously violated criminal procedures by failing to quickly notify the Attorney General's Office, preventing it from acting to block the release, two of Mexico's highest-ranking legal officials said Tuesday amid meetings with U.S. officials.
The Attorney General's Office is normally notified almost instantly of decisions like the ruling that freed Caro Quintero, said Mariana Benitez, assistant attorney general for international affairs. Caro Quintero, once notorious as one of Mexico's pre-eminent drug bosses, was set free by a federal appeals court on procedural grounds last month, 28 years into a 40-year sentence for helping orchestrate the 1985 killing of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, among other crimes.
That release embarrassed Mexican authorities and caused friction with U.S. law enforcement officials who had campaigned for years to punish Camarena's killers.
Benitez said the Attorney General's Office learned about Caro Quintero's release two days after the court ruling and nine hours after he walked free around 1 a.m. Aug. 9, at the same time the news was being reported by the press.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam told reporters in Washington that the release involved "serious violations" of procedure, including the court's failure to wait 10 days to check that there were no outstanding charges against the person about to be freed.
The court, which found that the charges originally should have been tried in state instead of federal court, also clearly should have referred the case to a state judge instead of simply freeing Caro Quintero, Murillo Karam said. The Attorney General's Office has appealed the decision but says that it has no idea where Caro Quintero has gone, making the proceeding largely irrelevant.
"To me — and this is how we describe it in the appeal — the court's decision appears to be absurd and illogical," Murillo Karam said.
U.S. officials have said they suspect the three judges on the appeals court in the state of Jalisco were bribed to let Caro Quintero go. A spokesman for the court system did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Attorney General Eric Holder complained to Murillo Karam about the Caro Quintero case during a series of meetings the Mexican official held with law-enforcement officials in Washington.
Murillo Karam said the Mexican court system, not his agency, was in charge of investigating potential irregularities. He said his office has assigned a special team to pursue a new U.S. request for Caro Quintero's arrest, filed after the drug lord was released.
"Unfortunately, we don't know where he is at this moment," he said. "If we knew where he was, we'd have him in custody."
Follow Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/luisalonsolugo