Fri. Jan 15th, 2021

The grisly killing of a prominent French restaurateur has shaken Mexico City’s foreign community and raised fresh questions over a nationwide murder crisis that has already claimed more than 29,000 lives this year.

Baptiste Lormand, a 45-year-old Parisian, disappeared last Thursday evening in Polanco, an upmarket corner of Mexico’s capital that is home to many of its best eateries as well as many foreign diplomats, businesspeople and journalists.

His body was found in the early hours of Saturday, dumped on a dirt road to the city’s south, along with that of a colleague called Luis Orozco. Both men had reportedly been beaten and had their hands bound.

One report in the newspaper Milenio claimed the men had also been shot once in the head.

The murders sparked an immediate outcry among Mexico City’s large expat community, many of whom knew Lormand and his lucha libre-themed Mexican restaurant, Surtidora Don Batiz, in the Polanquito dining hub.

“Just like everyone in our community I feel very shocked by the murder of our fellow countryman. My heart is with his family and friends,” tweeted France’s ambassador to Mexico, Jean-Pierre Asvazadourian.

On Monday morning Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said he lamented the crime and admitted that “violent incidents” continued to blight the capital.

But López Obrador, who came to power in 2018 promising to bring peace to his violence-stricken country with a controversial strategy of “hugs, not bullets”, insisted authorities were battling to “pacify” the city and blamed the level of violence on previous governments.

“We profoundly regret these murders,” said Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico City’s mayor. “Our solidarity to the families.”

Members of Mexico City’s European community were set to march down Presidente Masaryk, one of Mexico City’s most upmarket avenues, on Monday afternoon in protest.

Between January and November this year at least 29,182 homicides have been registered in Mexico putting Latin America’s number two economy on course for another year of record-setting bloodshed. Last year a record 35,588 lives were lost.

Mystery surrounds the murder of the French restaurateur, who had reportedly lived in Mexico for two decades and held Mexican citizenship.

At a press conference on Sunday Mexico City’s police chief, Omar García Harfuch, claimed there was no indication the murders were the result of organized criminals demanding extortion payments or that there had been any demand for ransom payments from the victim’s relatives.

Harfuch, who in June survived a spectacular assassination attempt not far from Lormand’s restaurant, said investigators were examining whether the killers were thieves who had been trying to steal a shipment of high-end wines they claimed Lormand had been delivering when he vanished.

One friend told El País that Lormand had recently purchased wine worth about 500,000 Mexican pesos (£18,600) from a restaurant that had shut down and had been in the process of reselling it.

“There’s no law, no authorities, no nothing in this country,” the friend, who was not named, complained.

But some observers spotted inconsistencies in Harfuch’s account of Lormand’s supposed final movements after he was last seen on Thursday.

“There’s something that doesn’t stack up about García Harfuch’s version of events, and it’s not the first time,” the columnist Ricardo Raphael wrote in the newspaper Milenio.

Raphael said he could not understand the police chief’s apparent assertion that the victim might have been in a notoriously rough neighbourhood to the city’s north in the hours after he went missing.

“Why would Baptiste Lormand have taken a fortune in high-end wine bottles to a small and dangerous neighborhood behind the Reclusorio Norte [prison]?” Raphael asked.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one Mexico City restaurateur told the newspaper El País that authorities “almost always sought to treat murders as isolated facts” rather than digging into possible connections to organized crime.

The brazen attempt to kill Harfuch was blamed on members of a group now considered Mexico’s most powerful organized crime group, the Jalisco New Generation cartel.

Last week Mexican security forces arrested a local cartel boss who was allegedly responsible for a 2019 massacre of nine women and children with dual US/Mexican citizenship near the US border.

That case also caused an international outcry with President Donald Trump urging López Obrador to “wage WAR on the drug cartels”.

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