Israel unlikely to heed Mexican request to extradite former official – report

Israeli officials quoted saying bid to repatriate Tomas Zeron, implicated in compromised investigation of 2014 disappearance of 43 students, ‘all but dead’

The former director of the Criminal Investigation Agency, Tomas Zeron (L), arrives at the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. (AFP/YURI CORTEZ)
The former director of the Criminal Investigation Agency, Tomas Zeron (L), arrives at the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. (AFP/YURI CORTEZ)

Israel is reportedly unlikely to extradite the former director of Mexico’s Criminal Investigation Agency, Tomas Zeron, whom Mexican authorities accuse of compromising an investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in 2014.

In a report Tuesday that cited unnamed Israeli officials, The New York Times said that “delays and missteps” by the Mexican authorities likely mean the extradition request is “all but dead.”

Zeron fled Mexico after an investigation into the mass disappearance was reopened following the election of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in 2019. He has been in Israel since and has applied for asylum. Separately, Zeron is accused by Mexico of embezzling over $50 million and torturing suspects.

“[I’ve befriended] amazing people, starting with chefs, tour guides, artists, various entrepreneurs and simple workers,” Zeron was quoted as saying of his new life in Tel Aviv, where he is reportedly a regular at parties and high-end restaurants.

The report listed a series of errors and failures in the Mexican extradition request, including a failure to submit documents requested by Israeli authorities.

One such misstep, which an Israeli official told the paper was the main reason Jerusalem would not approve the extradition, was an October 2022 meeting between Zeron and the head of the commission tasked with investigating the mass abduction, Alejandro Encinas.

During their Tel Aviv meeting, Encinas was reportedly recorded expressing doubt to Zeron over the veracity of government witnesses, telling him, “I believe that there is a legal basis to overcome all the accusations,” including the embezzlement allegations.

The former director of the Criminal Investigation Agency, Tomas Zeron (R), takes pictures at the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/YURI CORTEZ)

Encinas later claimed that the conversation had been an attempt to convince Zeron to return to Mexico and cooperate with the investigation.

Other reasons for the extradition’s likely failure reportedly include weak evidence implicating Zeron in the students’ disappearance and a failure to accurately translate legal documents from Spanish to English. “It was like they were making fun of us, saying they hadn’t finished the paperwork,” Mario González Contreras, the father of one of the students, told the Times.

One Israeli official said that Jerusalem had initially dragged its feet on the extradition request as retribution for Mexico’s support for United Nations inquiries into allegations of war crimes against the Palestinians.

In the wake of the 2014 disappearance of the students, an investigative team headed by Zeron concluded, just weeks after the fact, that police had handed the group of students, who were en route to a demonstration, to a local drug cartel. The criminals then killed the group, and burned and disposed of their bodies in a river.

International investigators later refuted Zeron’s account, discovering that the government had both tampered with existing evidence and extracted new evidence through torture.

Zeron stepped down in 2016 after a video was revealed showing him handling evidence that was apparently never officially recorded.

In September 2021, Israel’s embassy in Mexico City was vandalized by demonstrators calling on Israel to extradite Zeron. The demonstrators defaced the embassy with graffiti slogans including “Death to Israel.”

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