Mexico earns a rare victory against crime, thwarts Qaddafi son's plans

Mexico's success in preventing Saadi Qaddafi from escaping to a Mexican resort with his family stands in stark contrast to the impunity with which many international criminals are able to operate in Mexico.

Tim Wimborne/Reuters
Al Saadi Gaddafi, the third son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, reacts to a question at a news conference in Sydney in this 2005 file photo.

Has Mexico become a major player in unraveling international plots?

The Mexican government today is touting its role in helping thwart an attempt by Saadi Qaddafi, one of the sons of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, to enter the country under a false name and take up residence in a wealthy resort on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

The news comes less than two months after Mexico announced it had helped foil a plot that included an Iranian-American man allegedly reaching out to drug traffickers in Mexico to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US.

This is not the Mexico that most of its citizens know. In fact, impunity rates are over 90 percent, and it is precisely the lack of functional institutions and transparent investigations behind Mexicans' worry that its violent fight against organized crime will stubbornly remain on their doorstep, as we detailed in this week’s cover story.

As it remains mired in its drug fight, the government sought a boost from news today of its role in stopping Saadi. “Thwarting the illegal entry of Saadi Qaddafi in our country represents, without a doubt, yet another demonstration of the capacity of the institutions of Mexico to safeguard the integrity of the national territory,” said Mexico Interior Minister Alejandro Poire this morning at a press conference.

The plan to sneak Saadi and his family into Mexico on private planes using false identification was a multi-country affair, involving Mexican, Canadian, and Danish suspects, with a Canadian woman allegedly at the head of the operations.

But Mexican intelligence agents began unraveling the plot in September, after the ouster of Muammar Qadaffi from Libya. Dubbed “Operation Guest,” the plan involved flights between Mexico, the US, Canada, and Kosovo, as well as countries in the Middle East. Suspects were arrested in November for falsifying documents, opening bank accounts with the documents, and buying safe homes for the family, Mr. Poire said.

To be sure, the Mexican government should be commended for its intelligence work. But some Mexicans saw it as another example of Mexico being a haven for criminals and fugitives.

“The fact that he thought he would be safe in Mexico shows the collapse in institutions in the first place,” says John Ackerman, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

(The headline and summary of this article were edited after posting to reflect that Qaddafi's son was not captured in Mexico).

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