Family of kidnapped Mexican woman suspects driver

By: AP
By: AP

MEXICO CITY (AP) -- A former Cabinet secretary whose daughter was kidnapped more than a year ago said Wednesday that his former driver may have been responsible and demanded authorities investigate, reviving a case that has fueled outrage over Mexico's rising tide of abductions.

The high-profile abduction of Nelson Vargas' 19-year-old daughter has added to public anger at one of the world's highest kidnapping rates and frustration over law enforcement's ineffectiveness and alleged collaboration with criminals.

"I have cried. I have begged. I am now demanding that Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora and Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna resolve this case," Vargas said during a news conference where he struggled to steady his voice and hold back tears.

"Find my daughter. Find my Silvia," he said.

Vargas, a former national sports commissioner, said someone who had seen news coverage of the case came to him with information that his former driver, Oscar Ortiz, was the brother of one of Mexico's most wanted kidnapping suspects. He angrily asked how police missed that fact in the "one year, two months and six days" since his daughter was seized.

The attorney general's office confirmed that the Ortiz brothers had long been wanted on suspicion of belonging to a kidnapping gang known as "The Reds." But the department said investigators did not know that Ortiz had worked for the family until Vargas informed them of that fact on Oct. 9.

A month later, Oscar Ortiz was captured in southern Mexico and is being investigated in the Vargas kidnapping, although he denies involvement, the department said.

Silvia Vargas was kidnapped in September 2007 as she drove to her university.

Her family went public with the case in August, begging the kidnappers to hand over the girl. Her mother hung banners with her daughter's photograph across Mexico City and launched a public campaign for information in the case - one of several prominent kidnappings to shake Mexico.

Earlier this year, the 14-year-old son of Mexican sporting goods magnate Alejandro Marti was kidnapped and killed, even though his family reportedly paid a ransom. That case prompted more than 100,000 people to march through Mexico City to demand an end to endemic police corruption and rising crime.

Vargas said a "brave person gave him information" that his ex-driver and the ex-driver's brother were part of a kidnapping gang.

He said the driver worked for him for two years until he was fired on suspicion of stealing and he "knew the movements of my whole family perfectly."

Vargas warned officials against carrying out a forced, and possibly false confession.

"We do not want anything that does not have real evidence," he said, adding that he has not spoken to the driver himself because he felt it was the job of police.

Non-governmental groups claim Mexico has one of the world's highest kidnapping rates, surpassing Colombia.

Kidnappings in Mexico are up 9 percent this year and average 65 per month nationwide, according to the attorney general's office.

But most abductions go unreported for fear of police involvement. The nonprofit Citizens' Institute for Crime Studies estimates the real kidnapping rate at more than 500 per month nationwide.

President Felipe Calderon has proposed life sentences for kidnappers.

The attorney general's office announced a new initiative Wednesday: the installation of 334 complaint boxes across the country where Mexicans can denounce police corruption or incompetence.

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