The mutilated body of a missing Mexican reporter was found early Saturday in the state of Veracruz, three weeks after the citizen journalist was abducted from his home and killed on the orders of his city's mayor, suspects in custody told police.
Moises Sanchez was kidnapped on January 2 by a group of five armed men, two of whom turned out to be former police officers. They carried out the attack at the request of the mayor of Medellin de Bravo, Omar Cruz Reyes, who reportedly claimed Sanchez was "in the way."
Sanchez, 49, published an occasional newspaper and news website called La Union, where he documented cases of crime and corruption in Medellin de Bravo and its surrounding towns. He financed the news outlet entirely by himself, working as a taxi driver.
'All the official journalists relied on him for their information.'
Days after Sanchez's disappearance, the Veracruz state attorney general detained the entire municipal police force of Medellin de Bravo for questioning related to the kidnapping. On Monday, state officials released details of the investigation and signaled the mayor — whose whereabouts were uncertain — as the chief suspect of ordering Sanchez's disappearance.
Authorities on Sunday said Sanchez's body was found in a ravine, badly mutilated.
Reporter Moises Sanchez, pictured above.
Sanchez is the eleventh journalist to be killed in Veracruz since 2010, when current Governor Javier Duarte began his term. At least five more are considered missing in the state during the same period, making Veracruz the subject of international criticism for its record on violence against reporters.
Colleagues remembered Sanchez as a tenacious news gatherer, despite being untrained. Juan Eduardo Mateos, a Veracruz-based reporter who knew Sanchez, called his work "necessary" in an area Mateos described as semi-rural and neglected. The region Sanchez covered sits just southwest of metropolitan Veracruz port.
"Most media outlets didn't even care if someone died there," Mateos told VICE News.
"All the official journalists relied on him for their information," Mateos added. "He would always go to Café La Parroquia, where reporters gathered, to share information. He was a true journalist, much more so than many others reporters."
According to the Inter-American Press Association, the reporter had been receiving threats from the Medellin mayor and other unidentified men for at least a year.
"Moises Sanchez Cerezo had denounced a series of criminal acts in the city of Medellin de Bravo and its surroundings, making him an uncomfortable journalist for the mayor of said municipality," Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said in a statement after his disappearance.
One of them men who confessed to abducting the journalist, Clemente Noe Rodriguez, is a former member the inter-municipal police force, which ceased to exist in 2011 after Mexico's Navy stepped in to take over security duties in the violence-scarred state.
Rodriguez also confessed to being a member of a local drug gang, authorities said. He said he abducted the journalist, acting on an order from the local deputy police chief, Martin Lopez Meneses, who also serves as a personal bodyguard and driver for Cruz, the mayor.
Meneses is currently in custody, state authorities said. Thirteen Medellin officers were still in custody last week in relation to the case.
The accused killer told officials that he and others were ordered to carry out the kidnapping "because that man Moises Sanchez started to shake the hornet's nest, asking for greater police presence, because of the insecurity in El Tejar [a small town in Medellin county]."
Cruz was questioned ten days after the journalist's disappearance, spending seven hours in questioning with the state prosecutor. But since Cruz enjoys constitutional immunity due to his elected office, he must be first impeached by the state's Congress before possibly facing charges.
Cruz has repeatedly denied any involvement in the case. He reportedly did not show up to Monday's flag raising ceremony in Medellin de Bravo, but a municipal spokesperson told one news outlet that the mayor is working only sporadically.
Although the state prosecutor has said that he will be issuing a warrant for the mayor's arrest, he added that impeaching Cruz could take at least 25 days. Cruz cannot be legally processed until then.
The state prosecutor's case was unexpectedly clouded on Monday afternoon by a claim made by Sanchez's son, Jorge Sanchez, who said that he is unsure whether or not the body found was in fact his father.
"I asked to see it in detail, and realized that there are certain characteristics that do not coincide with those of my father," Jorge Sanchez said on Monday. "I have asked the federal prosecutor to perform a DNA test to confirm or deny that it is my father."