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Release of former Tijuana mayor compounds Mexico's judicial credibility problem

Tuesday's release of Jorge Hank Rhon after being held on gun charges is a blow to a government that can't seem to make charges against organized crime stick, writes guest blogger Steven Dudley.

By Steven DudleyGuest blogger / June 16, 2011

The former mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon, is questioned by reporters as he leaves a courthouse in the northern border city of Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday June 14. The flamboyant gambling magnate-turned politician has won a second round against state and federal prosecutors after a judge refused a request to hold him in a murder investigation.

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Jorge Hank Rhon was first freed in the early hours of Tuesday morning, after a judge threw out the gun charges against him on grounds of insufficient evidence. This was despite reports that dozens of unlicensed guns were found in his home, two of which were allegedly used to commit homicides.

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The business magnate was then taken for questioning over his connections to various murder cases, including that of his son's girlfriend in 2009. Again, the judge ruled against holding him while the government investigates what may be three separate murder charges.

Mr. Hank Rhon, one of the country's richest men, has been connected to the Tijuana Cartel, the murder of a journalist, breaking customs laws by trafficking ivory, and numerous other shady operations. However, he has consistently eluded jail and remains one of the most powerful men in the state of Baja California. His name circulates as a possible candidate for governor of the state or a return as mayor of Tijuana.

The former mayor's release leaves the Mexican government of Felipe Calderón, and by extension his political party, the National Action Party (Partido de Accion Nacional – PAN), with a huge credibility problem as it tries to convince Mexicans that the battle it began against organized crime when Mr. Calderón took power in 2006 is bearing fruit.

While the government has killed and imprisoned numerous top Mexican criminals, what most Mexicans see is violence – nearly 40,000 dead since Calderón entered office – and a government that is ill-prepared to take on the country's dark political powerbrokers such as Hank Rhon.

Hank Rhon's family made its money the old fashioned way: via connections with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional - PRI). His father, Carlos Hank Gonzalez, was famous for saying, "A politician who is poor is a poor politician."

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