Mexican beauty queen caught in anti-drug raid

MEXICO CITY Tue Dec 23, 2008 11:41pm GMT

Miss Sinaloa, Laura Zuniga (C), and seven men are presented to media in Guadalajara, Mexico, December 23, 2008. The 23-year-old Mexican beauty queen and international pageant winner was arrested with a group of suspected drug traffickers, assault rifles, bullets and cash, police said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Secretaria Seguridad Publica de Jalisco

Miss Sinaloa, Laura Zuniga (C), and seven men are presented to media in Guadalajara, Mexico, December 23, 2008. The 23-year-old Mexican beauty queen and international pageant winner was arrested with a group of suspected drug traffickers, assault rifles, bullets and cash, police said on Tuesday.

Credit: Reuters/Secretaria Seguridad Publica de Jalisco

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Mexican beauty queen and international pageant winner has been detained by police along with alleged drug traffickers who had assault rifles and cash.

Laura Zuniga, the 23-year-old Miss Sinaloa from the marijuana-producing Mexican state, was held with seven men at a military checkpoint in Guadalajara, police said Tuesday.

"She is the beauty queen of Sinaloa and was aboard an SUV with the weapons and several of the men," said a police spokesman from western Jalisco state, home to Guadalajara.

The spokesman said police and soldiers at the checkpoint on the outskirts of Mexico's second-largest city were tipped off that traffickers were moving through the area Monday night.

"No one expected this young woman to be aboard, along with more than a dozen cell phones, lots of cash, pistols, bullets and two rifles," the spokesman said.

Zuniga won the Miss Sinaloa title in July and was to compete in the Miss International 2009 pageant next year in Asia. She was named "Queen of Hispanic America 2008" in a contest in Bolivia.

One of the arrested men is linked to the leadership of the Juarez cartel, which operates lucrative smuggling routes into the United States, police said. "This young woman was the gentleman's girlfriend," Jalisco state Security Minister Luis Carlos Najera said in a radio interview.

The model is the latest well-known figure to be linked to drug traffickers this year in Mexico, where President Felipe Calderon is battling powerful cartels with soldiers and federal police.

Top anti-drug security chiefs have been accused of passing vital intelligence to kingpins and police arrested seven soccer players and club directors at second division Mapaches de Nueva Italia in October. Prosecutors suspect the team is being financed by a drug gang for money laundering purposes.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Todd Eastham)