Former attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam is behind bars after he was arrested Friday in connection with the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students in Guerrero in 2014.
The federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR) said that Murillo – attorney general between 2012 and 2015 in the government led by former president Enrique Peña Nieto – was detained “without resistance” at his Mexico City home on charges of forced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice in connection with the abduction of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College students, who disappeared in Iguala on September 26, 2014.
A judge on Saturday remanded the ex-official in preventative custody at the Reclusorio Norte prison in Mexico City after the FGR sought that measure because it considers the suspect a flight risk. Murillo will face another hearing on Wednesday.
His arrest came a day after the federal government published a report detailing the findings of an official inquiry that concluded that the kidnapping and presumed murder of the students was a crime of the state. The remains of just three students have been found and identified.
Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas said Friday that the students were victims of forced disappearance by government authorities and criminal groups. Senior officials in the Peña Nieto government altered crime scenes and concealed links between authorities and criminals in what amounted to a coverup, he said.
Murillo, also a former federal lawmaker and governor of Hidalgo, is considered the key architect of the so-called “historic truth” in the Ayotzinapa case – that the students, traveling on a bus they commandeered to go to a protest in Mexico City, were intercepted by corrupt municipal police who handed them over to members of the Guerreros Unidos crime gang. The Guerreros Unidos — mistaking them for rival gangsters — killed them, burned their bodies in a dump in the municipality of Cocula, Guerrero, and disposed of their remains in a nearby river, according to the previous government’s official version of events.
The former attorney general told a press conference in January 2015 that that version of events was “a legal certainty.”
However, the “historic truth” has been widely criticized and questioned both within Mexico and internationally. Prosecutors alleged at a hearing on Saturday that Murillo used false evidence to construct the official version of events.
The United Nations said in a 2018 report that 34 people were tortured in connection with the investigation, while prosecutors alleged Saturday that Murillo committed acts of torture against six people in order to obtain false confessions.
Many people have long suspected that the army played a role in the kidnapping and apparent murder of the students, a belief supported by leaked testimony from a suspected Guerreros Unidos leader.
The FGR said in a statement Friday that a México state-based federal judge had issued a total of 83 arrest warrants against 20 military commanders and soldiers belonging to two battalions in Iguala, five administrative and judicial officials in Guerrero, 33 municipal police officers from Huitzuco, Iguala and Cocula, 11 state police and 14 members of the Guerreros Unidos gang.
All are “linked to what occurred in the city of Iguala, Guerrero, on September 26 and 27 of 2014 and later dates,” the FGR said, adding that they are accused of organized crime, forced disappearance, torture, homicide and crimes against the administration of justice.
During the hearing on Saturday, Murillo said he would present evidence during his next court appearance that clearly shows what happened to the 43 normalistas, or teaching students, in September 2014. His lawyer, Javier López García, said the evidence consisted of documents and photographs.
A doctor who has treated Murillo for almost three decades told the same hearing that the 74-year-old has serious health problems. Advising against his patient’s incarceration, Alberto Jonguitud Falcón said that Murillo has high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other problems.
In addition to the former attorney general, authorities believe that 32 other former officials were involved in the fabrication of the “historic truth.”
Among them are Tomás Zerón, former head of the now-defunct Criminal Investigation Agency, and Mexico City police chief Omar García Harfuch, a former Federal Police coordinator in Guerrero. The latter on Monday said that he rejected the “absurd” claim that he had participated in a meeting to “conceive the historic truth.”
“Hopefully, those conducting the investigations detain those who did damage to the young men instead of ruining lives and reputations of those of us who do something for our country every day,” García wrote on Twitter.
President López Obrador said Monday that his government’s Ayotzinapa truth commission had not requested that Peña Nieto and former army chief Salvador Cienfuegos be investigated in connection with the students’ disappearance. He told his morning news conference that many people shared “joint responsibility” for the crime, “but those who participated directly are those who are being tried.”