Monday, June 24, 2024

Govt supports releasing Israel Vallarta, held 17 years without trial

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has spoken in favor of releasing alleged kidnapper Israel Vallarta, as a court deliberates whether to review the preventive detention measure that has kept him in prison for 17 years without trial.

In his Friday morning press conference, AMLO said that the federal security cabinet had discussed the case and agreed that Vallarta should be allowed to conclude his court process outside prison.

Israel Vallarta and then-partner Florence Cassez were arrested by the AFI for kidnapping in 2005, but only Cassez was formally convicted. Her conviction was later overturned, and she was released in 2013. Later investigations revealed that Vallarta confessed to committing the crime under torture. (Pedro Marrufo/Cuartoscuro.com)

“That was our opinion, fundamentally because it is proven that he was tortured,” AMLO said. “Not only that, but he has gone many years without a sentence, where is the quick and expeditious justice?”

Vallarta was arrested in December 2005 by agents of the defunct Federal Investigation Agency (AFI). He was accused of carrying out kidnappings in the capital as a member of the so-called ‘Los Zodiacos’ gang, alongside his French partner Florence Cassez.

Although Vallarta initially confessed to the crimes, he later recanted and claimed that he had been forced to confess under torture. Subsequent investigations supported this claim.

Cassez was convicted of kidnapping and spent seven years in a Mexican prison, but was released and returned to France in 2013 after an appeal found that she had been denied her basic human rights at the time of her arrest. The couple’s dramatic arrest was televised, but it was later revealed that it had been staged by the AFI (run at the time by convicted ex-security minister Genaro García Luna) after Vallarta and Cassez had already been detained and held by authorities the day before.

Vallarta has remained incarcerated in the Altiplano Prison west of Mexico City for over 17 years, despite never being formally convicted of a crime.

Mexican Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldivar
Supreme Court Justice Arturo Zaldívar has said that preventive detention has been abused in Mexico and that the practice should be the exception rather than the rule. He was instrumental in overturning Cassez’s conviction. (Galo Cañas Rodriguez/Cuartoscuro)

In his Friday press conference, AMLO explained that Vallarta cannot be amnestied as he was never sentenced, but that the federal government is monitoring the case and believes Vallarta should now be freed.

On Aug. 3, Vallarta filed a legal complaint regarding the authorities’ failure to periodically review his preventive detention. The complaint also highlighted Mexico’s lack of compliance with a ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in April that ordered Mexico to eliminate the measure entirely.

Preventive, or pretrial, detention can be mandatory in cases of people accused of specific crimes in Mexico, including kidnapping, though the measure was recently eliminated in 18 states, leaving the decision up to judges in each case.

In response, Abigail Ocampo Álvarez, a district judge in México state, agreed to grant Vallarta a provisional suspension of his preventive detention if Vallarta pays a guarantee of 10,000 pesos (US $590). Ocampo gave Mexico state’s Third District Court of Criminal Proceedings 48 hours to review Vallarta’s detention. 

On Friday afternoon, the Third District Court ruled against Ocampo’s provisional suspension. 

With reports from Milenio, La Jornada and El Universal

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