22 May 2009

Astonishing video footage was released today showing prison guards allowing dangerous drug traffickers to stroll out of a Mexican jail without a word of protest.

Now the prison’s entire 51-member staff – including the warden – are themselves behind bars facing a major corruption probe into whether kickbacks were paid to the poorly-paid guards in return for them turning a blind eye to the escape.

A total of 53 inmates walked past guards and were ferried to freedom in a convoy of fake police cars in the most brazen example yet of the sway held by Mexico’ s powerful drug cartels.

At least a dozen of the escapees were drug suspects and others carried out crimes like kidnapping and extortion that are linked to trafficking. It was only after the inmates had fled that the guards leaped into action ‘Jim Carrey-style' to act like they were trying to prevent the break-out.

The action – of lack of it – was all caught on security cameras at the prison in Cieneguillas in Mexico’s northern state of Zacatecas. Interpol described the worst of the criminals, who escaped without firing a shot, as ‘a risk to the safety and security of citizens around the world.’

The inmates stole 23 guns from a prison storage room before walking out through the front gates.

A prison spokesman said the police uniforms worn by the getaway drivers and the fleet of police cars that pulled up outside the prison with flashing lights to ferry away the escapees were all fakes.

But investigators refused to rule out the possibility of police involvement.

Last night’s outcry over the film footage was another major blow to the Mexican government mired in a bloody war with drug cartels that, along with the swine flu outbreak, has devastated tourism. The video was released by the Attorney General’s office after it was leaked to the Reforma newspaper. It shows bored looking guards watching television and stepping aside as a group of prisoners burst in.

A second camera catches two guards opening the front gate to allow in the getaway convoy. Eight gunmen wearing police jackets then escort the inmates to the cars waiting in the car park. When the prisoners have fled, the guards can be seen suddenly coming to life, some running towards the gate and others crouching with their guns drawn.

Mexico’s Reforma newspaper said the guards appear to be over-acting for the cameras, looking like extras in a film by comedian Jim Carrey. All the guards on duty at the time of the escape, along with the prison director and senior officials are being held for 30 days pending an investigation into their possible involvement.

Two of the men who escaped were arrested in January by soldiers who discovered 11.4 tons of marijuana at a house belonging to a local state senator. Mexico has long struggled to reduce corruption and ineptitude in its justice system. President Felipe Calderon has acknowledged that jailed drug traffickers often operate from behind bars, and has extradited a record number of drug dealers to serve time in more secure US prisons.

Two prison guards are serving up to 19 years for aiding the escape of Mexico's most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman. He rode out of prison in Jalisco state in a laundry cart after bribing guards in 2001. And Otto Garcia, who helped turn Guatemala into a corridor for US-bound cocaine, escaped in May 2005 from a jail in southern Mexico City.

That jail's warden, his deputy and 10 others were arrested for allegedly accepting bribes to facilitate his freedom.

SOURCE: The Daily Mail


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