Pubdate: Fri, 26 Dec 2008
Source: International Herald-Tribune (International)
Copyright: International Herald Tribune 2008


MEXICO CITY: Mexican congressmen called for a federal investigation of
potential drug cartel ties to the nation's beauty pageants Friday,
days after a 23-year-old beauty queen was detained on suspicion of
drug and weapons violations.

Congressional leaders warned that cartels may have infiltrated
contests to launder money, and said a full investigation was needed.

To many, former preschool teacher Laura Zuniga, named Miss Sinaloa in
the drug-plagued northern state's annual beauty contest, symbolizes
declining ethics in Mexico.

"It is very sad. What we are seeing is a loss of values among young
people," said Rep. Juan Francisco Rivera, who heads the congressional
public safety committee. "There should be an investigation to get to
the bottom of this, and make sure it (the pageant) is not linked to
some type of crime."

Northern Mexico's entertainment industry -- including concerts,
contests and musical groups -- has been dogged by reports that
powerful drug cartels have "adopted" performers or played a role in
laundering drug money through ticket offices.

"There are certainly links to things like money laundering, because of
the large amounts of money that are spent on producing these types of
contests," said Rep. Armando Barreiro.

A Sinaloa state official suggested that pageant organizers may have
put Zuniga on a fast track to win the contest, though he did not say
why she might have been selected, local media reported. Investigators
have said her boyfriend is a cartel leader.

Zuniga was arrested Monday while riding in a truck filled with
weapons. She and seven men arrested with her will be held for 40 days
while police decide whether to charge them, the federal Attorney
General's Office said in a statement.

Prosecutors on Friday said she will be held under house arrest pending
an investigation into possible drug trafficking and gun charges.

Investigators say Zuniga was dating one of the detained men, Angel
Orlando Garcia, alleged to be one of the leaders of the powerful
Juarez drug cartel.

The couple was traveling with six alleged bodyguards in Zapopan,
outside Guadalajara, when soldiers stopped their two trucks at a
military checkpoint. Inside, authorities found a large stash of
weapons, ammunition and $53,300 in U.S. currency.

Zuniga told police they were planning to travel to Bolivia and
Colombia to go shopping.

Zuniga's father, Jesus Esteban Zuniga, said his daughter had told him
she was going to a Christmas party in Guadalajara. He told The
Associated Press he does not believe his daughter is involved in drug

Zuniga won the Miss Sinaloa title in July. She placed third in the
Miss Mexico contest, whose winner competes for the Miss Universe
title. As third-runner up, she was expected to represent Mexico in the
2009 Miss International contest.

Pageant organizers say they are awaiting the results of the
investigation before deciding whether to strip her of her crown.
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