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Mexican President Names New Interior Secretary


Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY (AP) – An attorney who has defended bankers and businessmen in some of Mexico’s highest-profile cases rose to the powerful post of interior secretary Monday after a mysterious plane crash killed the government’s No. 2 leader.

President Felipe Calderon said he chose Fernando Gomez-Mont because the former lawmaker can build support in Congress for security reforms fortifying his fight against the nation’s powerful drug cartels.

Mexico’s interior secretary is the most powerful political figure after the president, the equivalent of a vice president and domestic security chief combined.

Gomez-Mont pledged to oversee an efficient and strong security cabinet to confront increasingly violent drug cartels.

“We are committed to getting rid of the violence that is happening across the country,” he told reporters.

In his first news conference as interior secretary, Gomez-Mont brushed off repeated questions about his past.

As a defense lawyer, his clients included Carlos Cabal Peniche, a prominent banker who was charged with defrauding his banks of $700 million, money laundering and tax evasion, and Rogelio Montemayor, the former head of Mexico’s state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos who was accused of diverting millions of dollars to a presidential campaign.

Gomez-Mont told reporters Monday that he has cut all ties to his professional life and sees no conflict of interest as interior secretary.

“I am not a man with ulterior motives,” Gomez-Mont said. Calderon asked Gomez-Mont to work with political leaders on ways to prevent organized crime from influencing next year’s midterm congressional elections.

Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora has said that drug gangs have been kidnapping, intimidating and threatening candidates in several states.

Gomez-Mont also must rebuild the Interior Department following last week’s crash of a Learjet that killed several officials, including former Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino.

Mourino, 37, was one of Calderon’s closest confidants and the administration’s key negotiator with political parties.

He oversaw the president’s war on drugs and helped usher a major judicial reform through Congress.

Gomez-Mont is a member of the executive committee of Calderon’s National Action Party, but said he has not decided yet whether he will leave that post.

As a federal lawmaker in the 1990s, he pushed for electoral reforms that helped end 71 years of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party with the election of former President Vicente Fox in 2000.

Officials still don’t know what caused the Nov. 4 crash, but have sent the plane’s two flight recorders to the United States for examination amid widespread speculation – but no evidence – that drug cartels were to blame for the crash.

Drug gang violence has surged in Mexico, claiming more than 4,000 lives during a 2-year-old army and police offensive against the cartels.

Also killed on the plane was former anti-drug prosecutor Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos.

Drug cartels have increasingly targeted security officials, and the Sinaloa cartel is suspected in the death of the acting Mexican federal police chief in May.

Calderon, however, urged Mexicans to not jump to conclusions.

“The Mexican government is not in the least bit interested in hiding anything. On the contrary, I want to know the truth,” Calderon said after meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who was visiting Mexico. “But evidently all evidence so far does not support any theory other than that this was an accident.”

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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