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Mexico says fugitive ex-investigator seeking asylum in Israel

Former head of the country’s Criminal Investigation Agency Tomas Zeron is accused of using torture, enforced disappearance and embezzling $55 million of public funds

Then-Director of the Criminal Investigation Agency of Mexico Tomas Zeron listens during a press conference at the Attorney General building in Mexico City,  October 27, 2014. (Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP)
Then-Director of the Criminal Investigation Agency of Mexico Tomas Zeron listens during a press conference at the Attorney General building in Mexico City, October 27, 2014. (Alfredo ESTRELLA / AFP)

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Mexico said Thursday a fugitive former top investigator wanted in connection with the disappearance of 43 students in 2014 was seeking asylum in Israel, complicating extradition efforts.

Mexico has asked Israel to arrest Tomas Zeron, who headed the Criminal Investigation Agency, over allegations of serious irregularities in the probe into one of the country’s worst human rights tragedies.

Zeron “is trying to obtain asylum in Israel. That’s the legal strategy that they have, arguing that he is being persecuted,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard told reporters.

The move means the extradition process will take longer, he added, but voiced confidence that Mexico would be successful.

Zeron is accused of using torture to extract supposed confessions from suspects, enforced disappearance and embezzling around $55 million of public funds.

An international media investigation called “The Cartel Project” reported last month that he had fled to Israel with help from his contacts in the country’s cyber-surveillance industry.

Relatives of 43 missing students from the Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa hold up their fists behind photos of their missing family members at a press conference in Mexico City, September 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

The disappearance of the teaching students shocked Mexico and sparked mass protests against then-president Enrique Pena Nieto’s government.

The students had commandeered 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 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.

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