Judge holds Mexican generals over for drug probe

MEXICO CITY Thu May 17, 2012 9:06pm EDT

Former General Tomas Angeles Dauahare listen as he takes part in a working meeting at Mexico's congress in Mexico City January 22, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Former General Tomas Angeles Dauahare listen as he takes part in a working meeting at Mexico's congress in Mexico City January 22, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Mexican judge on Thursday ordered the former deputy defense minister and a top general to be held for 40 days while they are investigated for alleged ties to drug cartels.

Retired General Tomas Angeles and active General Roberto Dawe are to be held in a detention center in Mexico City following their arrest on Tuesday, the federal Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

Several witnesses, including fellow military officers, have already testified against the generals, the statement said.

On Thursday, soldiers detained another retired general, Ricardo Escorcia, in connection with the case, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Escorcia, who retired in 2010, was taken for questioning by federal prosecutors, the statement said.

The generals' arrest is a scandal for the Mexican army, which has been at the heart of the government's war on drugs.

Angeles was No. 2 in the Defense Ministry, which includes the army and air force, under President Felipe Calderon and helped lead a military offensive against drug cartels from December 2006. He retired in 2008.

Dawe headed an army division in the Pacific state of Colima, which lies on a key smuggling route for drugs heading to the United States, and had also served in the violent border state of Chihuahua.

Federal agents began the investigation that led to the generals' arrest in March, the statement said.

According to Mexican media reports, the probe into the generals centers on the Beltran Leyva cartel, a powerful trafficking organization that has smuggled tons of cocaine, heroin, crystal methamphetamine and marijuana over the Rio Grande.

Since Calderon launched the offensive against cartels, around 55,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence.

(Reporting by Miguel Gutierrez and Ioan Grillo; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Lisa Shumaker)

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