MEXICO CITY (AP) — A Mexican judge on Monday acquitted a former drug czar who was charged with organized crime after he allegedly accepted $450,000 to leak details of police operations against members of the Pacific cartel, an alliance once led by the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Noe Ramirez was Mexico's top anti-drug prosecutor and the highest-ranking law enforcement official detained in 2008 as part of then President Felipe Calderon's sweeping effort to weed out corrupt officials with ties to organized crime.
A federal judge in western Nayarit state, where Ramirez has been held at a maximum security prison, ordered his release after determining that the main witness in the case lied and prosecutors might have fabricated evidence, the country's Federal Judiciary Council said in a statement.
"Regarding the main witness, an informant codenamed 'Jennifer,' it was shown that he acted with dishonesty, as it became clear that he lied when he gave his statements," the council said.
It said the judge found that there were high-level officials at the anti-drug prosecutors' office who were in collusion with organized crime but that there was no evidence Ramirez was part of that network.
Ramirez was one of five top officials detained as part of Calderon's "Operation Clean House." He had been named assistant attorney general for organized crime in 2006 when Calderon took office, and resigned four months before his arrest.
The previous highest-ranking official arrested was Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, then head of Mexico's anti-drug agency, who was detained in 1997 and later convicted of aiding deceased drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes.
Calderon's efforts to weed out corrupt officials suffered major setbacks after judges declared there was not enough evidence in many of the cases that were mainly based on testimony from witnesses, many of them informants under police protection.
In the most dramatic case, 10 mayors and 18 other top officials in Michoacan state were detained by federal authorities and charged with aiding La Familia drug cartel, but all were eventually released for lack of evidence.
This shows "that the information coming from these witnesses is not verified," said Samuel Gonzalez, Mexico's former top anti-drug prosecutor. "This is a vice seen in the last few years, this is (proof) of the poor handling of protected witnesses."
An official at the federal Attorney General's Office said prosecutors were analyzing the judge's decision and had not yet decided whether to file an appeal.
"We're very respectful of the judicial branch decisions and we'll analyze the situation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he's not authorized to talk to the media.
Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.