TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican gambling tycoon Jorge Hank Rhon, an eccentric former mayor of Tijuana who collected exotic animals, was arrested on Saturday after the army found a large weapons cache in his home.
The millionaire businessman, who owns a successful chain of casinos, a soccer team and racetrack, was arrested during a raid in an upscale Tijuana neighborhood, the army and federal prosecutors said in a statement.
Soldiers launched the sweep after receiving an anonymous tip, surprising Hank Rhon and 10 other people with 40 rifles, 48 pistols and a gas grenade, the statement said.
Hank Rhon belongs to a prominent political family linked to the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
He lost a bid for governor of Baja California in 2006 but was mayor of Tijuana, across from San Diego, California, and part of a busy drug trafficking corridor, from 2004 to 2007.
Still popular in parts of the city, dozens of his supporters surrounded the local attorney general’s office where he was being held to try to block his transfer to Mexico City.
“This is a violation ... the people are going to mobilize in support of (Hank Rhon),” PRI member Ranier Salcon said.
He was arrested in 1995 at the Mexico City airport with luggage containing precious stones, ivory and ocelot furs.
A Tijuana newspaper columnist, and critic of the Hank family, was gunned down in 1988. His killers were later found to be Hank Rhon security guards.
His father, Carlos Hank Gonzalez, a former federal cabinet minister and mayor of Mexico City, was denounced in a U.S. government report for helping drug gangs but the U.S. attorney general at the time said the report was inconclusive.
Hank Gonzalez died in 2001 after earning a reputation as a powerful political operator inside the PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven decades before being voted out of power in 2000.
Known for wearing red crocodile-skin vests and for bringing a famous killer whale that starred in “Free Willy” films to a marine park in Mexico, Hank Rhon once said that his favorite kind of animal was women.
Mexico is enmeshed in a violent war against drug cartels that has killed more than 38,000 people and uncovered many cases of official corruption.
The Sinaloa cartel, run by Mexico’s most-wanted man, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, has largely won control of Tijuana. The city was previously dominated by the once-powerful Arellano Felix gang, but it has been weakened by the deaths and capture of many of its top leaders over the past decade.
Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Eric Walsh