Advertisement

Mexican president releases details of NYT journalist who investigated his links to cartels

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's stance towards Mexican drug cartels has long concerned the United States - Fernando Llano/AP

Mexico’s president published the number of a New York Times (NYT) journalist who investigated his possible links to cartels as he hit out at the “filthy pamphlet” over its reporting.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s astonishing tirade, delivered at a televised press conference on Thursday, saw him dismiss the US newspaper as an “embarrassment” while he projected Mexico correspondent Natalie Kitroeff’s contact details onto a screen assembled behind him.

The screen also displayed a list of written questions which Ms Kitroeff had sent the Mexican leader about allegations his aides had received millions of dollars of funding from drug kingpins.

Mr López Obrador read the request for comment out word-for-word, accompanied by sarcastic commentary, from a stage at the Los Pinos presidential palace to a small pack of assembled reporters.

Critics warned his actions would encourage cartels to target Ms Kitroeff, allowing them to contact her directly.

Mr López Obrador doubled-down on Friday, batting back allegations that he had breached Mexico’s strict data protection laws. He argued that the legislation was not above the “dignity” or “moral and political authority” of the presidency.

The NYT’s questions were based on the contents of a now shelved US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigation.

They include claims from anonymous informants that the president met with leaders of the Sinaloa cartel founded by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán while on the campaign trail before his victory in the 2018 presidential election.

It was also reported that two of Mr López Obrador’s aides accepted $4 million (£3.2 million) in return for releasing a leader of the rival Zetas cartel after he won office.

The Mexican president, who is in the final months of his term and is constitutionally barred from running for reelection, denied all the allegations made by the informants.

But Xóchitl Gálvez, the candidate for the centre right opposition party Broad Front, called for an official investigation into Mr López Obrador over the claims in order “to know … the scale of corruption in his government.”

“No one is above the law,” she said.

The allegations are not the first time that the 70-year-old Left-wing populist has been linked to drug traffickers, which have long attempted to infiltrate the Mexican state.

A separate investigation by the DEA launched more than a decade ago, and first reported on by media outlets last month, unearthed allegations that a powerful drugs cartel leader known as “Barbie” had donated nearly $2 million in cash Mr López Obrador’s first, unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2006.

The investigation was eventually closed without charges being brought.

‘Troubling and unacceptable tactic’

Mr Lopez Obrador’s attack on the NYT echoed previous verbal assaults he has launched on journalists, including revealing private information about them.

The newspaper criticised his move on social media.

“This is a troubling and unacceptable tactic from a world leader at a time when threats against journalists are on the rise,” the media outlet said.

Experts warned his reaction to the newspaper’s reporting would heighten the dangers faced by media workers in a country where more than 160 have been murdered since 2000, according to local free speech group Article 19.

“Lopez Obrador needlessly and willingly exposed a reporter to an increased risk of threats and harassment in what continues to be the most dangerous country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere,” Jan-Albert Hootsen, the Mexico coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told The Telegraph.

“It is deeply concerning to us that he believes himself to be above the law and is completely unrepentant when challenged.”

Mr Lopez Obrador’s stance towards the drug cartels has long concerned the United States.

His 2018 campaign slogan was “hugs not bullets” as he pledged to tamp down the narco-violence by ordering security forces to avoid shoot outs with the cartels.

Any DEA investigation of senior figures in Mexico’s government would require high level approval in Washington, including, possibly, from Joe Biden.

The White House, however, has carefully attempted to avoid antagonising Mexico in recent years, whose co-operation it needs to tackle migration and the flow of cocaine and fentanyl into the United States.