US charges Mexican ex-defense chief for drug trafficking | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 18, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:25 AM, October 18, 2020

US charges Mexican ex-defense chief for drug trafficking

A former Mexican defense minister has been detained in the United States and charged with drug trafficking and money laundering in the latest high-profile arrest linked to the country's powerful cartels. 

Salvador Cienfuegos, a key figure in ex-president Enrique Pena Nieto's 2012-2018 government, was detained at Los Angeles airport on Thursday while on a trip with his family.

He is accused of conspiring to produce and distribute "thousands of kilograms" of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana in the US between December 2015 and February 2017, documents released by federal prosecutors in New York said.

The 72-year-old retired general nicknamed "The Godfather" allegedly abused his position "to help the H-2 Cartel, an extremely violent Mexican drug trafficking organization," according to the documents.

"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," the indictment said. The prosecution said the evidence included thousands of Blackberry messages between Cienfuegos and cartel members intercepted by the authorities.

The charges are punishable in the United States with a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life imprisonment. The indictment was filed by the New York City District Attorney's Office in August 2019, but was only released Friday.

The arrest could lead to US authorities pursuing even bigger targets. "Cienfuegos has enough information," a former official told AFP when asked if the investigation could even result in charges against former president Enrique Pena Nieto, who also faces corruption allegations at home. 

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