- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The top federal prosecutors in 21 of Mexico’s 31 states and federal districts have abruptly quit the attorney general’s office, although it is unclear if their resignations were the result of a protest or if they had been forced out.

Newly appointed Attorney General Marisela Morales has led a purge of the office since assuming control in April, announcing during a press conference two weeks ago she had overseen the firing of 140 police officers and investigators and had more than 280 others under investigation.

Ms. Morales said at the time that 424 personnel were involved in dismissal proceedings. In a statement, her office described the purge as a “restructuring,” although it did not elaborate.

The resigning attorneys include the top prosecutors in some of the most violent Mexican states, such as the border regions of Sonora, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas. The prosecutor for the federal district of Mexico City also quit.

The federal prosecutors are considered central to the Mexican government’s fight against the drug cartels and organized crime. More than 35,000 people have died in drug-related killings in Mexico in the four years since President Felipe Calderon declared an offensive against cartels shortly after taking office.

In a statement, Ms. Morales said today’s Mexico requires that those in public service do their jobs “with total commitment and responsibility.” She said the purge within the attorney general’s office was fundamental “to give the public the results it legitimately requires.”

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

The shake-up at the Mexican attorney general’s office is the most public show of transparency in recent history. In 2008, a total of 35 agents belonging to an anti-organized-crime unit were fired.

Of the 140 already fired in the current purge, CNN reported that 74 were let go because they failed so-called “confidence exams” that included polygraph tests and reviews of financial records. Eighteen others were fired because they faced criminal charges, including allegations of murder, and another seven were terminated after being convicted of crimes, such as murder and kidnapping.

Mexico’s last attorney general, Arturo Chavez, resigned in March after 18 months leading efforts to tackle Mexico’s violent drugs cartels and reform the justice system. He said at the time he was leaving for urgent personal reasons.

In his previous role as the top prosecutor in Chihuahua state, Mr. Chavez was accused of mishandling investigations into the murder of women in Ciudad Juarez on the U.S. border.

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