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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 12:43 EDT

Mystery emerges in arrest of Mexican drug suspect

July 6, 2005

By Catherine Bremer

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A middle-aged man arrested on a
weekend trip to a shopping mall has thrown Mexico’s war on
drugs into confusion, with police unsure if he is a top drug
baron or just an innocent architect as relatives say.

The attorney-general’s office said on Wednesday it had
witnesses who swore the mustachioed man, detained on a tip-off,
was Vicente Carrillo, boss of the Juarez cartel.

That would be a major victory for President Vicente Fox’s
battle against drug gangs that have unleashed a wave of
violence in cities on the U.S. border.

But callers to television and radio stations, claiming to
be the mystery man’s relatives, say he is in fact Joaquin
Romero Aparicio, a prominent architect and steady family man.

Two witnesses produced by the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration, or DEA, say the suspect is indeed Carrillo,
reported to have undergone extensive plastic surgery to alter
his face, the attorney-general’s office said.

“We have the declaration of a witness who traveled to
Mexico and said the person he could see through a special
camera during an identity parade was in fact Vicente Carrillo,”
it said.

Based on the evidence, a judge has approved a request
allowing police to hold the man for another six days.

Carrillo is one of Mexico’s leading drug barons and listed
as one of the DEA’s top 10 international fugitives with a $5
million reward on his head.

DNA and fingerprint checks were being carried out on the
man, arrested on Saturday as he got into an armor-plated BMW at
the well-known Perisur shopping center in Mexico City. The
suspect resembles photos of Carrillo circulated in the media.

People saying they were relatives of the man said he was a
well-known architect and had nothing to do with drugs crime,
provoking media reports of an embarrassing police bungle.

“My brother is an honest professional, a worker, he has a
construction company where he has worked for 20 years,” a woman
calling herself Lucina Romero who said she was the man’s sister
said on Tuesday.

If the capture turns out to be a blunder, it will leave the
government red-faced coming after the arrest last month of a
man it crowed was an international terror suspect who turned
out to be a harmless Lebanese-born tourist.

Embarrassed Mexican authorities have also had to deny a
military report in June of marijuana plantations in Zapatista
rebel territory in the southern state of Chiapas.

Carrillo, who runs the Juarez cartel with sidekick Juan
Jose Esparragoza, is the brother of its founder Amado Carrillo,
whose own attempts to change his appearance via plastic surgery
led to his death on the operating table in 1997.

Based in the grim border city of Ciudad Juarez, the cartel
is a confederation of clan-like crime families who smuggle
Colombian cocaine and Mexican marijuana to the United States.

More than 600 people have died this year in drug-related
violence which has escalated since President Vicente Fox
launched a “mother of all battles” on drug gangs in January.