Arrest of a suspected mastermind in Ortiz Franco murder

New York, August 17, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists today urged Mexican authorities to investigate the suspected involvement of Arturo Villarreal in the 2004 killing of a Tijuana newspaper editor. Villareal was picked up as part of a drug sweep by U.S. security services on August 14.

A Mexican prosecutor last year identified Villarreal, who is known by the nickname “El Nalgón,” as one of two masterminds in the June 22, 2004 shooting of Zeta editor Francisco Ortiz Franco.

“We are encouraged by the prospect of justice in the murder our colleague Francisco Ortiz Franco,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. ’We urge U.S. and Mexican authorities to work together to ensure that Villarreal’s involvement in the Ortiz Franco murder is fully investigated.”

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty said yesterday that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents arrested suspected members of the Tijuana drug cartel controlled by the Arellano Félix family. They were stopped in a fishing boat off Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.

Prosecutor Timothy Coughlin, Chief of the Narcotics Unit for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego, Calif., told CPJ that Villarreal was among those arrested.

Villareal and suspected drug boss Francisco Javier Arellano Félix were brought today to San Diego, the San Diego Union Tribune reported. The cartel leader faces drug conspiracy and racketeering charges, the newspaper said.

Villarreal and Jorge Briceño (known as “El Cholo”) masterminded the Ortiz Franco murder, according to Mexican prosecutor José Luis Vasconcelos, who leads the organized crime division of the Mexican Attorney General’s office. The actual gunman, Jorge Eduardo Ronquillo Delgado, was killed by fellow cartel members on October 2004, Vasconcelos told CPJ last year.

The Zeta editor was short in broad daylight in a quiet neighborhood near downtown Tijuana.

Mexican federal authorities, who took over the probe in August 2004, believe that Ortiz Franco was killed because of his work as a journalist, and they consider stories he wrote about the Arellano Félix drug cartel as the probable motive.

In September 2004, a CPJ delegation visited Tijuana to look into Ortiz Franco’s murder. With information gathered during the trip, CPJ published a report in November that year titled “Free-Fire Zone,” describing how feuds between rival drug cartels over lucrative drug smuggling routes have endangered the lives of journalists, turning the Northern Mexican border into one of the most dangerous places for the practice of journalism in Latin America.

CPJ’s investigation into the Ortiz Franco slaying is at: