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The BBC's Justine Cole
"The kidnap gang often severed one of the captors fingers"
 real 28k

Sunday, 2 April, 2000, 08:39 GMT 09:39 UK
Mexico suspect pleads innocence

Tinoco: Allegedly abducted at least 11 wealthy people
A man described by police as one of Mexico's most dangerous kidnappers has denied a range of charges against him, including organised crime and possession of illegal firearms.

"I am simply a jewellery merchant and I am innocent on all charges," Marcos Tinoco told a judge as court proceedings against him began at a top security prison west of Mexico City.

But prosecutors told a news conference on Thursday that Mr Tinoco, nicknamed "The Colonel", used personal charm and a law school education to gather information on at least 11 wealthy kidnap victims.

In at least one case, he cut off a victim's finger to persuade relatives to pay a ransom, the prosecutors said.

Mr Tinoco, 42, was arrested while driving in the affluent Polanco neighbourhood of Mexico City.

The head of the attorney general's organised crime unit, Jose Trinidad Larrieta, described him as one of Mexico's most wanted kidnappers and the leader of "the most active and dangerous criminal organisation" in the country.

Demanded ransom

He said Mr Tinoco used his legal training to intimidate victims, and extracted ransoms ranging from $38,000 to $650,000.

The capture of Mr Tinoco is one in a series of triumphs over alleged kidnapping gangs by federal officials - although daily newspapers from around Mexico still often carry reports of new abductions.

The most dramatic arrest was the August 1998 capture of Daniel Arizmendi, who was notorious for sending victims' ears to their families.

He is now serving a 50-year sentence.

Mr Larrieta said police were investigating a possible link between Mr Tinoco and one of Mexico's most famous drug smugglers, the now-imprisoned and convicted Hector Palma.

A BBC correspondent says Mr Tinoco is believed to be responsible for 11 kidnappings over the past 15 months, mostly among Mexico City's wealthy Jewish community.

He says only Colombia outranks Mexico as the most dangerous place in the Americas for kidnapping.

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29 Mar 00 | Americas
Mexico arrests kidnap king
12 Nov 99 | Americas
Police suspected in Mexico kidnap
24 Nov 98 | Americas
Mexican police arrest colleagues
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