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Mexican official fired in White House BlackBerry caper

April 24, 2008 |  3:54 pm

A Mexican official allegedly swiped half a dozen or more BlackBerrys belonging to his White House counterparts during a U.S.-Mexico summit this week, according to news reports. The theft is said to have taken place during the North American Leaders' Summit in New Orleans between President Bush, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Rafael Quintero Curiel, a member of Calderon's press office, allegedly took six or seven BlackBerrys belonging to White House staff from a table outside a room in the hotel where Mexican officials were meeting with Bush, according to a report in Fox News. The U.S. officials had been required to leave the devices before entering the high-level meeting, and discovered them missing when the meeting concluded.

The U.S. Secret Service is said to have caught Quintero Curiel pocketing the devices on a surveillance video. Mexican media confirmed the story and Mexican officials told The Times today that Quintero Curiel was fired after he returned to Mexico. According to Fox News, the Secret Service caught up with him at the airport, where he "said it was purely accidental, gave [the BlackBerrys] back, claimed diplomatic immunity and left New Orleans with the Mexican delegation." Mexican officials who asked not to be named told The Times that Quintero Curiel said he had picked up the BlackBerrys because he believed they belonged to the Mexican delegation. The matter is being investigated, the official said.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said at a news conference today that she didn't know whether the BlackBerrys contained any sensitive material. Quintero Curiel was the vice director of Calderon's advance team. He earned the equivalent of about $48,000 a year, according to public records.

Friday morning update:

Mr. Quintero Curiel called The Times in Mexico City this morning to draw our attention to his statement attempting to clarify the affair. In essence, he calls the whole thing a misunderstanding. He says he left the meeting (which officials say involved Presidents Bush and Calderon) and found two BlackBerrys that had been left behind by their owners. Unable to determine who they belonged to, he took them with him and gave them to another Mexican official at the New Orleans airport, asking the official to return them to their owners. When confronted by U.S. agents at the airport, he explained everthing to them, and they confirmed his story, he says, and thanked him. "I hope that this matter will be clarified quickly so that I can continue with my daily duties," he said.

-- Héctor Tobar in Mexico City

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