Kidnapped Mexican girl's family suspects driver

/ Source: The Associated Press

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 that authorities investigate, thrusting back into the spotlight a case that has fueled outrage over Mexico's rising tide of abductions.

The high-profile kidnapping of Nelson Vargas' 19-year-old daughter has added to public anger at one of the world's highest kidnapping rates and frustration at 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 constantly struggled to steady his voice and hold back tears.

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

Accuses police of missing facts
Vargas said that someone who had seen news coverage about the case came to him with information that his ex-driver, Oscar Ortiz, was the brother of one of Mexico's most wanted kidnapping suspects. Vargas angrily asked how police had missed that fact in the "one year, two months and six days" since she was seized.

Ortiz was captured on Nov. 5 in southern Mexico and ordered held for 40 days pending investigation into allegations that he belonged to a kidnapping gang known as "The Reds," according to a statement from the federal Attorney General's Office.

The department did not immediately responded to Vargas' claims.

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 around 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.

Citizens urged to report crimes
On Tuesday, Marti announced the creation of a civic association to compile criminal statistics and encourage citizens to report crimes.

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 up 9 percent
Kidnappings in Mexico are up 9 percent this year and average 65 per month nationwide, according to the Attorney General's Office. In Mexico City, there have been 23 reported kidnappings just in November, the city Attorney General's office said.

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 and drawn up a 74-point security plan that includes a citizens' panel to monitor progress in fighting crime and better recruiting and oversight systems.