The president of Mexico has asked Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for Israel to work with it on extraditing a fugitive former top investigator wanted in connection with the disappearance of 43 students in 2014.
Deputy Interior Minister Alejandro Encinas told Reuters that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has written to Bennett regarding the case of Tomas Zeron, the former head of the Criminal Investigation Agency.
Zuron, who is in Israel and seeking asylum, is facing allegations of serious irregularities surrounding a probe into one of the country’s worst human rights tragedies, as well as accusations of torture and embezzlement.
“The president has sent a letter… requesting [Israel’s] support and cooperation to expedite the extradition process of [Zeron],” Encinas said. He added that Bennett had not yet received the letter.
In July, Lopez Obrador urged Israel to cooperate in the Zeron case.
“I hope the government of Israel acts with respect for human rights, because the extradition of this public official is being requested, among other things, for acts of torture,” Lopez Obrador told reporters then, amid reports that Israel was slow-walking the extradition request.
Zeron is wanted on charges of compromising an investigation into the disappearance of 43 students in 2014. He is also accused of embezzling over $50 million dollars and torturing suspects.
Zeron fled Mexico after the case into the mass abduction was reopened, following the election of Lopez Obrador in 2019. He has been in Israel since and has requested asylum.
According to a report in The New York Times earlier this year, Israeli officials familiar with Zeron’s petition said that he claims he is being persecuted as part of an effort by the incumbent Mexican president to get back at his predecessor Enrique Pena Nieto.
The Times also reported that Israeli is not cooperating in protest of Mexico’s support for human rights investigations of Israel at the United Nations.
An unnamed senior Israeli official cited in the report said that the processing of the extradition request was being delayed as part of a policy of “tit-for-tit diplomacy” against Mexico, started by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in retaliation against countries that vote against Israel in UN forums.
“Why would we help Mexico?” the official said, pointing to the country’s support for UN Human Rights Council probes of Israel over its fighting against terrorists in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and its treatment of Palestinians.
Speaking to The New York Times, Encinas charged that Zeron had received assistance from Israeli firms to which he has ties, such as controversial private intelligence firm NSO Group, whose spyware the fugitive reportedly authorized for use.
NSO denied ever assisting Zeron, and the report said that Encinas provided no direct proof of the allegation. An international media investigative effort called “The Cartel Project” reported in December that he fled to Israel with help from his contacts in the country’s cyber-surveillance industry.
The disappearance of the 43 teaching students shocked Mexico and sparked mass protests against then-Mexican president Pena Nieto’s government.
The students had taken five buses to travel to a demonstration, but were stopped by corrupt police in the city of Iguala, Guerrero and handed over to a drug cartel.
Prosecutors initially said that the cartel mistook the students for members of a rival gang and killed them before incinerating their bodies at a garbage dump and tossing the remains in a river.
However, independent experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rejected the government’s conclusion, and the families of the victims continue to demand answers.
AFP contributed to this report.