Mexico defends release of suspect sought in slaying of border agent
By Arthur H. Rotstein
The associated press
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 07.11.2008
The United States did not ask Mexico to arrange for a suspect's extradition in the death of a Border Patrol agent until the man had been freed, a Mexican government spokesman said Thursday.
Ricardo Alday, spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said U.S. officials presented Mexican authorities "with a provisional arrest request for extradition purposes" for Jesus Navarro Montes in late June.
Alday said that request came more than a week after a Mexican judge cleared Navarro of an unrelated migrant-smuggling charge and released him from a prison in Mexicali, Mexico.
Alday's announcement came hours after 39 members of Congress wrote President Bush and Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking if the government had asked Mexico to extradite Navarro.
Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said the department would review the congressional letter and that it remains committed to investigating agent Luis Aguilar's death.
"As with all ongoing criminal investigations, we cannot provide details with respect to the nature or timing of possible charges or other actions against any possible defendant or defendants," a statement from Carr said. After-hours calls to Carr and another Justice Department representative were not returned immediately.
Alday said Navarro's June 18 release came five months after his initial arrest on human-smuggling charges in Mexico.
Last month, Alday said Navarro was released after the U.S. government failed to issue an arrest warrant, provide evidence or contact Mexican authorities to seek extradition.
U.S. authorities allege Navarro's Hummer struck and killed Aguilar on Jan. 19 as the agent tried to stop suspected drug smugglers by setting spike strips on a road. Navarro was later arrested in Mexico.
The letter from California Rep. Brian Bilbray noted the lawmakers' concerns over Navarro's release and Alday's statement. The lawmakers want an accounting of communications between U.S. and Mexican officials.
Bilbray is a Republican who heads the Immigration Reform Caucus, a group of lawmakers who support tougher immigration laws.
The letter noted that the spokesman "stated publicly that the U.S. government has not issued an arrest warrant, provided evidence or contacted Mexican authorities regarding extradition either formally or informally. Mexican officials publicly claim that the mistake was made on the U.S. side of the border."
Bilbray said he and the executive director of the caucus have "received absolutely no information from the Department of Justice or the White House" in response to numerous requests made since June 27.
Alday declined to comment on why American and Mexican officials had delayed making public the provisional arrest request for extradition.
Bilbray requested "a full report of all activities and correspondence the U.S. government has had with the Mexican government" in the case.
His letter also asked whether the U.S. had issued an arrest warrant and had contacted Mexican authorities about extradition, or who was responsible if the Justice Department had failed to contact Mexican authorities.
Reached Thursday night in Washington, Bilbray said it appeared that federal officials were trying to cover themselves "sort of a day late and a dollar short" after having erred.
Aguilar was "murdered in the course of his duties" as a sworn officer representing the nation "and we have an obligation" to see whether the suspect was responsible and to achieve justice for Aguilar, Bilbray said.
He also said he doesn't mind Justice officials "not telling us what's getting done as much as I mind them not getting the job done . . . when they're not telling us what's going on because they're busy covering their you-know-what."
Alday said his government was working cooperatively with an ongoing intensive search for Navarro, whose whereabouts are unknown.
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