Interpol is sending a special investigative team to Mexico to determine whether sensitive information from its database on criminals and terrorists was leaked to drug cartels, the agency said Wednesday.
Interpol launched the probe after Mexican federal police official Ricardo Gutierrez Vargas was placed under house arrest as part of an investigation of law enforcement officers who allegedly shared police information with traffickers.
The arrest of Gutierrez Vargas — who served as director for International Police Affairs and Interpol at the Federal Investigative Agency — was the latest blow to Mexico's police forces, which have seen a number of top officials linked to the nation's powerful and violent drug gangs.
The investigation that netted Gutierrez Vargas also resulted in the detention of several other federal police officials in recent weeks on suspicion of leaking information to traffickers.
An Interpol Web site identified Gutierrez Vargas as head of Interpol's Mexico National Central Bureau, or NCB.
The site said NCB officers are employed by their local countries' police forces rather than the France-based Interpol General Secretariat. Officials at Interpol's offices in Lyon were not available Tuesday.
Interpol said each officer "is connected to INTERPOL's secure police communications network I-24/7, which enables them to share crucial information on criminals and criminal activities 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
Officials in those offices have direct access to databases of information on suspected terrorists, wanted persons, fingerprints and DNA profiles, among others things, the agency said.
Earlier this month, Mexican prosecutors announced that Rodolfo de la Guardia Garcia, the No. 2 official at the Federal Investigative Agency from 2003-2005, was placed under house arrest for 40 days as investigators look into the possibility he leaked information to the Sinaloa cartel in return for monthly payments.
De la Guardia was elected to Interpol's executive committee in 2002 but was removed from that post by the Mexican government in 2004, the Interpol General Secretariat said in a statement at the time.
'Operation Clean House'
The detentions of both Gutierrez Vargas and De la Guardia are part of the Mexican government's "Operation Clean House," which is aimed at weeding out corruption that came to light after the January arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva, a reputed Sinaloa cartel lieutenant.
Former federal police commissioner Gerardo Garay and three other officials of the Public Safety Department were placed under house arrest earlier, though officials have not revealed the allegations against them.
In recent weeks, the Sinaloa cartel also has been linked to four Mexican military officers and one soldier, as well as five officials in the organized-crime unit of the attorney general's office, which oversees the agency that employed de la Guardia.
Also Tuesday, federal agents took over patrolling in four of Tijuana's boroughs.
Tijuana Mayor Jorge Ramos said the federal agents replaced dozens of city officers taken off their posts so they could receive more training.