A judge has acquitted a man charged with dealing in precursor drug chemicals and allegedly linked to the bust of a Chinese-Mexican businessman who hid $205 million at his Mexico City mansion.
The ruling represents another blow to years of frustrated efforts to prosecute the case, which involved the largest drug-related cash seizure in history.
Mexico's Judiciary Council said Friday that a federal judge found defendant Juan Llaca Diaz innocent of organized crime and drug charges. The ruling says prosecutors did not prove key parts of their case, including that the substance Llaca Diaz allegedly imported was a precursor chemical used to make methamphetamines.
"Given the contradictions between the various expert witness reports presented by the Attorney General's Office, they did not prove that the substance seized from the defendant was a narcotic or precursor chemical," the council said in a statement describing the Wednesday ruling.
Llaca's name was reportedly found on a shipment of a substance authorities claim was a type of pseudoephedrine, which is often used by drug gangs to produce methamphetamines.
The seizure of the shipment at a Mexican port led to a 2006 search of businessman Zhenli Ye Gon's home, where police found the $205 million hidden in a closet and in a wall.
Ye Gon claimed that the substance seized was a legitimate pharmaceutical chemical intended for use in a medicine factory he was building in Mexico.
Ye Gon was jailed in the United States for more than two years on charges of importing methamphetamine from Mexico into the United States, but U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan threw out the charges in 2009 after one prosecution witness recanted and another refused to testify.
Sullivan, who had criticized prosecutors for taking months to reveal the witness problems, ordered that Ye Gon never be charged in the U.S. again.
But Mexico requested he be extradited to face similar charges back home.
Lawyer Gregory Smith, who is representing Ye Gon in his fight to avoid extradition, said this week's acquittal reflects weaknesses in Mexico's case.
"U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney acknowledged that the U.S. case was being dismissed because of evidentiary concerns, but she tried to claim that Mexico's case was somehow different, asserting that 'Mexico's extradition request reflects the compelling nature of the evidence in that case,'" Smith said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
"The decision from a Mexican federal judge, declaring Juan Llaca Diaz innocent, verifies that Mexico's case is not 'compelling' at all,'" he wrote.
Mexico's Attorney General's Office had no immediate comment on the acquittal.