MEXICO CITY (AP) – Federal prosecutors said on Friday they had arrested the former Mexican government’s attorney general on charges of abuse in the investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from a radical teachers’ college.
Jesús Murillo Karam was Attorney General under then-President Enrique Peña Nieto from 2012 to 2015. The office of current Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero said Murillo Karam has been charged with torture, misconduct and forced disappearance.
In 2020, Gertz Manero said Murillo Karam was implicated in “orchestrating a massive media ruse” and conducting a “general cover-up” in the case.
The arrest came a day after a commission set up to investigate what happened said the army was at least partially responsible in the case. It was said that a soldier had infiltrated the affected group of students and that the army had not stopped the kidnappings despite knowing what was going on.
Corrupt local police officers, other security forces and members of a drug gang abducted the students in the city of Iguala, Guerrero state, although the motive remains unclear eight years later. Their bodies have never been found, although fragments of burned bones have been attributed to three of the students.
Under pressure to solve the case quickly, Murillo Karam revealed in 2014 that the students had been killed by members of a drug gang and their bodies had been burned in a dump. He called this hypothesis “the historical truth”.
However, the investigation included cases of torture, improper arrest and mishandling of evidence that have since allowed most of the gang members directly involved to walk free.
The incident took place near a major military base and independent investigations have shown that members of the military knew what was going on. The students’ families have long requested that soldiers be involved in the investigation.
On Thursday, the Truth Commission investigating the case said one of the kidnapped students was a soldier who had infiltrated the radical faculty, but the army did not search for him despite having real-time information on the kidnapping. It said the inaction violated army protocols for missing soldier cases.
The Department of Defense did not respond to a request for comment.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party, to which both Murillo Karam and Peña Nieto belonged, wrote on its Twitter account that Murillo Karam’s arrest “is more a matter of politics than justice. This action does not help the victims’ families to get answers.”
Mexican federal prosecutors had previously issued arrest warrants for members of the military and federal police, as well as for Tomás Zeron, who was head of the federal investigative agency, Mexico’s detective agency, at the time of the kidnapping.
Zeron is wanted for torture and covering up enforced disappearances. He fled to Israel and Mexico has asked the Israeli government for help in arresting him.
Gertz Manero said that in addition to Zeron’s alleged crimes related to the case, he allegedly stole more than $44 million from the Attorney General’s Office budget.
The motive for kidnapping the students remains controversial.
On September 26, 2014, local Iguala police, members of organized crime and authorities abducted 43 students from buses. The students regularly impounded buses for their transportation.
Murillo Karam claimed the students were handed over to a drug gang, who killed them, burned their bodies at a dump in nearby Cocula, and dumped the burned bone fragments in a river.
Subsequent investigations by independent experts and the Attorney General’s Office, confirmed by the Truth Commission, have dismissed the idea that the bodies were incinerated at the Cocula landfill.
There is no evidence that any of the students could still be alive.