A judge in Veracruz ruled yesterday that the state’s former attorney general must remain in preventative custody while he awaits trial on charges related to the enforced disappearance of 13 people.
Luis Ángel Bravo Contreras, who served in the role during the administration of Javier Duarte, was arrested in Mexico City Sunday and transferred to a prison in the Gulf coast state.
He is accused of ordering the disappearance of 13 of the 19 bodies that were found in a ravine in the municipality of Emiliano Zapata in January 2016. He is also charged with obstructing the investigation into the case so that former state police officials and officers who were previously under his control and allegedly perpetrated the crimes would evade justice.
At a five-hour-long hearing at the Pacho Viejo penitentiary near the state capital Xalapa, the former attorney general’s defense team argued that his arrest violated a provisional injunction he obtained from a district court judge in Mexico City on May 24.
The accused’s legal representation also contended that because he is accused of “ordering the manipulation of a [crime] scene” and not actually committing the crime itself, the offense couldn’t be considered serious and therefore did not warrant preventative detention.
But presiding Judge Alma Aleida Sosa Jiménez countered that the actions of which Bravo Contreras are accused constitute a crime against humanity and do indeed justify pre-trial detention.
Meanwhile, Veracruz Governor Miguel Ángel Yunes Linares said the arrest of the former attorney general opened the way to investigate the cases of hundreds of other people who also disappeared at the hands of state authorities during Duarte’s administration.
A five-million-peso (US $243,500) reward that had been offered for information leading to the arrest of Bravo Contreras will now be allocated to the state’s missing persons search commission, Yunes said.
“The people of Veracruz were in the hands of criminals that dared to do everything from stealing money from the people of Veracruz to forming alliances with organized crime and putting Veracruz on the republic’s red map [of violence],” the governor charged.
Javier Duarte, who was in office between 2010 and 2016, took a leave of absence in October of the final year and fled the country, but was arrested in Guatemala in April 2017.
He was extradited to Mexico last July and is currently in prison awaiting trial on charges of embezzlement and links to organized crime.
In addition, a judge last week issued new charges against the ex-governor which also accused him of the enforced disappearance of at least 13 people in the state.
In February, the Veracruz government formally accused four high-ranking former security officials and 15 police officers of the forced disappearances of 15 people during Duarte’s administration. One of the accused is the state’s former secretary of public security, or police chief, Arturo Bermúdez Zurita.
Police allegedly used death squad tactics to abduct, torture, kill and dispose of the bodies of their victims.
Outside yesterday’s hearing, family members of disappearance victims held a protest at which they accused the former attorney general of pretending to work to help locate their loved ones when in fact he was complicit with the people who committed the crimes.
“. . . He sat down with us at the working table and that was a mockery towards us,” said Aracely Salcedo, spokeswoman for a group of victims’ family members from Orizaba and Córdoba.
“That’s what angers us the most, what hurts the most, that a person who was supposed to guarantee us justice clearly and simply deceived us.”