Mexico urges Israel to cooperate in extraditing fugitive ex-investigator

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged Israel on Thursday to cooperate in extraditing a fugitive former top investigator wanted in connection with the disappearance of 43 students in 2014.

Mexico wants Israel to arrest Tomas Zeron, who headed the Criminal Investigation Agency, over allegations of serious irregularities in the probe into one of the country’s worst human rights tragedies.

“I hope the government of Israel acts with respect for human rights, because the extradition of this public official is being requested, among other things, for acts of torture,” Lopez Obrador told reporters at a briefing a week after reports that Israel was slow-walking the extradition case.

Zeron is wanted on charges of compromising an investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in 2014. He is also accused of embezzling over $50 million dollars and torturing suspects.

Zeron fled Mexico after the case into the mass abduction was reopened, following the election of Lopez Obrador in 2019. He has been in Israel since and has requested asylum.

According to a report in the New York Times last week, Israeli officials familiar with Zeron’s petition said that Zeron claims he is being persecuted as part of an effort by the incumbent Mexican president to get back at his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gives his daily, morning news conference at the presidential palace, Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City, December 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)

Israel has not answered Mexican requests to extradite him, nor has it granted him asylum, the report said.

Speaking to the New York Times, Alejandro Encinas, the Mexican undersecretary for human rights charged that Zeron had received assistance from Israeli firms he has ties to, such as controversial private intelligence firm NSO Group, whose spyware the fugitive reportedly authorized for use.

NSO denied ever assisting Zeron, and the report said Encinas provided no direct proof of the allegation. An international media investigative effort called “The Cartel Project” reported in December that he had fled to Israel with help from his contacts in the country’s cyber-surveillance industry.

The logo of the Israeli company NSO Group is displayed on a building where it had offices in Herzliya until 2016. (AP Photo/Daniella Cheslow)

The disappearance of the 43 teaching students shocked Mexico and sparked mass protests against then-president Pena Nieto’s government.

The students had taken five buses to travel to a demonstration, but were stopped by corrupt police in the city of Iguala, Guerrero and handed over to a drug cartel.

Prosecutors initially said the cartel mistook the students for members of a rival gang and killed them before incinerating their bodies at a garbage dump and tossing the remains in a river.

However, independent experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected the government’s conclusion, and the families of the victims continue to demand answers.

AFP contributed to this report.

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