Last updateFri, 14 Dec 2018 4pm

Cops charged with handing Italians over to local gang

New revelations continue to surface regarding the abduction of three Italian citizens, who vanished January 31 in the southern Jalisco municipality of Tecalitlan. 

pg2ddWhile most of these developments regard the alleged involvement – all but confirmed at this point – of local police, more details regarding the three kidnapped southern Europeans have also emerged.

Perhaps the most stunning revelation is the allegation that corrupt Tecalitlan police officers turned over the three Italians to local gang members for 1,000 pesos each, or about 43 euros.   

As of last week, the matter stood thusly: On February 1, Neapolitans Raffaele Russo, 60, his son Antonio, 25, and his nephew Vincenzo Cimmino, 29, were reported missing by Francesco Russo, another son of Raffaele.  According to Francesco — who together with another of Raffaele’s sons was in Mexico at the time but returned to Italy shortly after reporting his relatives missing — the last thing he heard from the trio was that they were being pulled over by municipal police on the highway.

Following the report, the state’s Attorney General’s office, led by Raul Sanchez Jimenez, suspended 33 Tecalitlan police officers and sent them to a state police training facility in Guadalajara for questioning.  Subsequently, four officers were formally detained, while the town’s chief of police, Hugo Enrique Martinez Muñiz, vanished into thin air following an aborted press conference.

Investigations by Sanchez and his team revealed inconsistencies with Francesco Russo’s statement regarding their presence in Mexico, in which he stated they had only recently arrived in the country – in fact, they had been in nearby Ciudad Guzman for some time.  In addition, it was found that the elder Russo had a criminal record in Campeche, where he had been arrested for selling off-brand machine parts in 2015.

But in the days since last week’s report in this paper, the plot has thickened considerably.

Following the lead of his superior, police chief Martinez Muñiz, another officer is likewise nowhere to be found. The officer, Hilario Farias Mejia, shift commander on the day of the disappearances, was charged last week with directly ordering the remaining three suspected police officers to scoop up the three Italians off the highway near Tecalitlan and hand them over to gang members.

Chief among the many hypotheses swirling around regarding the abduction’s motive is that the men, all of whom – not only Raffaele – were suspected peddlers of fake machine parts, were deprived of their freedom as retaliation for operating on gang turf.  Another possibility is that they were taken after refusing to pay a “tribute” allowing them to ply their trade in the area.

Further investigation into Raffaele Russo’s criminal history, meanwhile, found that prior to arriving in Mexico, the sextagenarian was involved in a scam defrauding the elderly, and that he had fled Naples for Mexico to avoid prosecution.  He remains a fugitive of justice from his home country.

Additional scrutiny of Francesco Russo’s statement paints a somewhat more complicated picture of the January 31 disappearance. Rather than one abduction of three men, there were two separate incidents: the abduction together of Antonio and Vincenzo following their search for Raffaele, who had gone missing hours before.  According to Francesco, the younger men drove to the last spot the elder’s rental car GPS location was registered, where they were then approached by authorities and detained.   

Meanwhile, various Italian news organizations, including La Repubblica and Corriera della Sera, cite “unverified sources” – most likely Francesco Russo – which say the corrupt local police turned over their charges to gang members for 1,000 pesos each, or about 43 euros.

However, this claim hasn’t been confirmed by the state Attorney General, nor has its appearance been widespread in Mexican news sources.

To date, family members and other concerned citizens in Naples continue to mount protests demanding something be done about their countrymen’s disappearance, requesting — with typical Neapolitan fatalism — that “even if they aren’t alive, we’d at least like their bodies  returned to us.”

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray has assured his Italian counterpart that efforts to locate the missing Italians have been stepped up.

Public opinion in the Italian media has been critical of Mexico and its attempts to clarify the case.

Although the Italian government has made no official pronouncement on the matter, Germany this week issued a warning to its citizens to take extra caution while traveling in certain parts of Mexico, including the state of Jalisco.

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