Mexico judge frees drug ‘Queen of the Pacific’

Mexico judge frees drug ‘Queen of the Pacific’
Screengrab from a video showing Sandra Avila Beltran

MEXICO CITY - A Mexican woman whose links to drug traffickers earned her the nickname "Queen of the Pacific" and inspired a soap opera was released from prison Saturday after winning an appeal.

Sandra Avila Beltran, 54, was freed after a judge ordered her immediate release, saying she could not be put on trial twice for the same crime, a federal official told AFP.

Avila Beltran, whose nickname comes from a drug ballad written in her honour, had been sentenced to five years in prison for money laundering in September.

She was first arrested in Mexico City in 2007 along with her boyfriend, Juan Diego Espinosa, also called "El Tigre," who was a go-between for Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel and Colombian traffickers.

She was acquitted of charges of handling illicit funds in 2012, but authorities then extradited her to the United States.

US officials accused her of conspiring to import five kilograms (11 pounds) of cocaine between 1999 and 2004.

But she struck a plea bargain that resulted in a conviction on charges of helping Espinosa avoid arrest, and a judge sentenced her to time served and deported her back to Mexico in August 2013.

While she admits knowing famous drug kingpins, she has denied trafficking drugs herself, insisting that she amassed her fortune through real estate deals and her work in fashion.

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