Mexico president justifies release of kingpin targeted by US

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Wednesday defended the 2013 ruling that freed one of the drug lords most wanted by US authorities, despite the Mexican Supreme Court later ruling that it was a mistake was.
Rafael Caro Quintero was released while serving a 40-year prison sentence for the torture murder of Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, agent of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Since then, he has apparently resumed his role as a violent drug dealer.
Caro Quintero tops the DEA's Most Wanted List with a $ 20 million reward for his capture.
López Obrador said Wednesday the appeal that led to Caro Quintero's release was "justified" as allegedly no verdict had been passed against the drug lord after 27 years in prison. As an example, López Obrador also presented a later arrest warrant for his re-arrest under US pressure.
"As soon as he was gone, they had to look for him again because the United States requested that he not be released, but the appeal was legally justified," said López Obrador.
The President's spokesman, Jesús Ramírez, said: "The President only said that it was a legal derogation that the judge had not passed judgment on Mr. Caro Quintero after 27 years ... but he did not defend his release."
There was a verdict - but a Mexican appeals court first ruled that it was from the wrong judge.
In August 2013, the appeals court overturned Caro Quintero's 40-year sentence for the murder of Camarena and a Mexican government pilot. The panel argued that a state court should have overseen the case, not a federal court, and ordered his immediate release from a maximum security prison.
The Mexican Supreme Court overturned the order to release him months later, saying Camarena was a registered agent of the US government and therefore his murder was a federal crime and was properly tried. An arrest warrant has been issued for Caro Quintero, who has been in hiding since his release.
His nightly release angered the US government and surprised Mexican prosecutors, who were not notified until hours after their release.
For López Obrador, who has publicly stated that the Mexican government is no longer interested in arresting drug masters, the problem is delicate. In 2019, López Obrador ordered the release of Ovidio Guzman, a son of the imprisoned drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman, to avoid bloodshed.
Even if the president was misinformed as to why Caro Quintero was released in 2013, more than five years before he took office, it seems to illustrate how little the case - or the search for the drug lord - appears to have even to the Mexican government while it remains a top priority for the United States.
Since his release, Caro Quintero has reportedly forged alliances with other cartels and launched an operation in the northern state of Sonora to allegedly wrest territory from Guzman's sons and the Sinaloa cartel.
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