Mexican court confirms ex-Tijuana mayor's release

August 26, 2011 - 12:10 AM

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The flamboyant former mayor of the Mexican border city of Tijuana won another legal round Thursday when a court rejected an appeal by federal prosecutors seeking to overturn the dismissal of weapons charges against him.

Jorge Hank Rhon, a gambling magnate and the scion of a prominent Mexican political dynasty, has now won three rounds, with courts dismissing weapons possession charges and freeing him from detention in a homicide investigation.

The weapons charges relate to a June 4 army raid on his Tijuana mansion in which soldiers seized 88 weapons and nearly 10,000 bullets. The army said it was tipped off to the cache by troops caught at a Tijuana hotel with guns.

But the Federal Judiciary Council said in a statement Thursday that the appeals court upheld a lower court decision that found the raid was conducted improperly without a warrant, saying the argument by soldiers that they were investigating a crime in progress didn't hold up.

The appeals court said there wasn't sufficient, legally obtained evidence to hold Hank Rhon.

Federal prosecutors said only 10 of the weapons found at Hank Rhon's Tijuana mansion were licensed and two were traced to two Tijuana murders — of a security guard in December 2009 and an alleged car thief in June 2010.

Baja California state prosecutors also tried to hold Hank Rhon in the investigation into possible links to a total of three homicides, including allegations that he ordered the 2009 killing of his son's former girlfriend.

A court ruled authorities couldn't hold him during the murder probe, although authorities can continue the investigation while he is free.

The rulings were seen as a blow to Mexico's campaign against organized crime and fueled claims that the long effort to prosecute Hank Rhon, a member of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, was politically motivated.

Hank Rhon was Tijuana's mayor from 2004 to 2007, when he staged a failed run for governor. He has long figured large on the national political scene, and not only because of the wealth amassed from his Caliente gambling empire. His father was one of Mexico's best-known politicians as the leader of a faction in the PRI, which ruled Mexico from 1929 until 2000.

National polls indicate that the man with the best chance to oust Calderon's National Action Party and recover the presidency in 2012 is PRI politician Enrique Pena Nieto, who has political ties to Hank Rhon.