A former Mexican defence minister has been charged with drug trafficking and laundering money while holding public office, US prosecutors say. Gen Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was arrested at Los Angeles airport on Thursday, he is due to make a court appearance on four charges in California on Friday, his charges include conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana to the US.
Prosecutors accuse Mr Cienfuegos, a retired general known as “The Godfather”, of helping the H-2 Cartel – “an extremely violent Mexican drug-trafficking organisation” smuggle drugs into the US. In exchange for bribe payments, he permitted the H-2 Cartel, a cartel that routinely engaged in wholesale violence, including torture and murder, to operate with impunity in Mexico, prosecutors alleged in a court document released on Friday. Prosecutors say they have evidence of communications between Gen Cienfuegos and a senior leader of the H-2 Cartel, they have requested that Mr Cienfuegos be held in detention until his trial, arguing the general poses “a significant risk of flight”. Should he be convicted, the former defence minister could face a jail term of ten years or more, prosecutors say, earlier, the Mexican government confirmed that Gen Cienfuegos was arrested on a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warrant.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the arrest serves to illustrate that the main problem in Mexico is corruption, President López Obrador, who was elected on an anti-corruption platform in 2018, has accused his predecessors of running a “narco-government” that allowed corruption, he is seeking to lift the immunity of former leaders from prosecution. Gen Cienfuegos, 72, served as minister from 2012 to 2018, under President Enrique Peña Nieto, his role as the most senior member of the armed forces meant he played a key role in Mexico’s war on drugs, but there were accusations of complicity between the state and the country’s powerful drug cartels throughout Mr Peña Nieto’s presidency.
Earlier this year, one of the former president’s closest advisers was extradited to Mexico from Spain on corruption charges, Emilio Lozoya, the former boss of Mexican state oil company Pemex, is accused of taking $10m (£8m) in bribes from a Brazilian construction firm that has admitted paying off Latin American politicians, he has denied any wrongdoing. Mr Peña Nieto has not been implicated. Gen Cienfuegos is not the first former Mexican minister to have been arrested in the US, last December, former security minister Genaro Garcia Luna was charged with taking bribes from a drugs cartel. Mr García Luna, who was Mexico’s top security chief from 2006 to 2012, is currently on trial in New York, accused of allowing the Sinaloa cartel of “El Chapo” Guzman to operate in Mexico in exchange for millions of dollars, he denies all charges against him.