Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico court frees drugs kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero

File picture of former top Mexican drugs cartel boss Rafael Caro Quintero under armed guard at the Puente Grand" prison in Guadalajara in 2005
Image caption Rafael Caro Quintero was a founding member of Mexico's Guadalajara Cartel

A court in Mexico has released drugs baron Rafael Caro Quintero, after he served 28 years in prison for the kidnap and murder of a US agent.

The court cut short Caro Quintero's 40-year sentence for the 1985 killing of US Drug Enforcement agent Enrique Camarena.

It ruled that Caro Quintero, now 60, should have been tried in a state rather than a federal court.

The murder strained US-Mexico ties and changed the war on drugs trafficking.

Caro Quintero had been arrested in Costa Rica amid a massive manhunt for cartel leaders.

He was one of three founding members of the Guadalajara Cartel.

Heralded as a hero

The group was thought to be responsible for transporting the majority of the cocaine consumed in the US in the 1980s, the BBC's Will Grant reports from Mexico City.

Caro Quintero could have faced other charges or possible extradition to the US.

But the inmate walked free early on Friday before media were notified.

The court did not clear Caro Quintero of Camarena's death.

Image caption Mexican police officers patrolled the surroundings of the Puente Grande prison where Rafael Caro Quintero has been held

Our correspondent says that would have caused significant scandal, particularly among Washington-based drug enforcement agencies where the murdered operative is heralded as a hero.

The US authorities believe Caro Quintero has been controlling drugs money from behind bars, the Associated Press news agency reports.

"Caro Quintero continues to launder the proceeds from narcotics trafficking and he maintains an alliance with drug trafficking organisations," US treasury department spokesman John Sullivan was quoted as saying.

Many analysts believe the Camarena killing represented a key turning point in the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico.

It broke up the Guadalajara Cartel into splinter groups, which formed the basis of today's powerful drug gangs.

Experts say it also led to closer cooperation between Mexico and the US on drug trafficking cases, AFP says.