Mexican officials say alleged drug trafficker arrested in Md.
Jul 24, 2007
MEXICO CITY - Mexico said Monday that U.S. authorities have arrested alleged methamphetamine trafficker Zhenli Ye Gon, whose mansion was the scene of what U.S. officials say was the world's largest seizure of drug cash.
Mexico's Attorney General's office said Ye Gon was detained in the Washington suburb of Silver Spring, Md.
He is wanted in Mexico on organized crime, drug trafficking and weapons charges. Mexican officials have requested his arrest for extradition.
In March, Mexican agents found more than $207 million in dollar, peso and euro bills in a mansion owned by Ye Gon in one of the capital's most exclusive neighborhoods.
Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said the money was connected to one of the hemisphere's largest networks for trafficking pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient in methamphetamines. He said the ring had been operating since 2004, illegally importing the substance and selling it to a drug cartel that mixed it into the crystal form and imported into the United States.
Ye Gon said the chemicals imported by his company, Unimed Pharm Chem de Mexico SA, were legitimate and intended for use in prescription drugs to be made at a factory he was building in Toluca, just west of the Mexican capital.
Ye Gon's attorney, Ning Ye, said early Tuesday that DEA agents arrested his client about 9:30 p.m. Monday at a restaurant in Silver Spring, Md., where he had been dining with a member of his legal team.
Ye said agents swarmed the restaurant and also raided the house where Ye Gon had been staying. He said Ye Gon went willingly.
Ye said he was surprised by the arrest because he had reached a verbal agreement late last week with a DEA agent in Mexico that called for Ye Gon to surrender to U.S. marshals on Thursday. In return, Ye Gon was to be tried in the United States, not Mexico, Ye said.
"Only the United States can provide the most comprehensive procedural safeguards concerning what is happening on the Mexican side," Ye said.
Ye denounced the "lousy evidence made up by Mexican government" and said Ye Gon would apply for political asylum in the U.S.
Rogelio de la Garza, Ye Gon's lawyer in Mexico, told the Associated Press that his client would fight extradition. But he said he feared that U.S. authorities may simply deport him to Mexico to avoid a drawn out legal battle in a U.S. court.
"I don't know if his visa (for the United States) has run our or not," De la Garza said.
De la Garza said he will fight for Ye Gon's immediate freedom if he arrives in Mexico, arguing the money was earned legally and that Ye Gon was not found with any narcotics.
Ye Gon has also claimed that claimed that $150 million of the money belonged Mexico's ruling party, and that he was forced to store it for party officials in his mansion under threat of death during the 2006 presidential race, which Felipe Calderon narrowly won.
Calderon has called the accusations "pure fiction."
Ye Gon's U.S. lawyer Martin F. McMahon had said he would ask that Ye Gon be given asylum in the United States and called for congressional hearings and a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration investigation into his client's claims.
"If he goes back to Mexico, he's going to be tortured ... we're convinced he faces death," McMahon told a news conference in Washington.
U.S. anti-drug officials have praised Calderon's crackdown on Mexican traffickers since taking office. DEA chief Karen Tandy also praised Mexican agents following the March money seizure.
"This is like law enforcement hitting the ultimate jackpot. But luck had nothing to do with this windfall," Tandy said, calling it "the largest single drug-cash seizure the world has ever seen."
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