The United States dropped a high-profile money laundering and drug trafficking case against former Mexico’s defense secretary, retired General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. This followed a great pressure campaign where Mexico threatened to avert cooperation the US authorities.
Cienfuegos, who was arrested in Los Angeles, had been charged in 2019 for allegedly conspiring with the Mexico’s H-2 cartel to smuggle thousands of kilos of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine when he was Mexico’s defense secretary between 2012 and 2018.
According to the prosecutor, he is alleged to have alerted the cartel members of looming raids and even directed his troops to initiate operations against rival cartels in exchange for bribes. He is also suspected of introducing leaders of cartels to other corrupt officials in Mexico. Cienfuegos was purportedly known under the alias IL Padrino- the Godfather by the cartels.
However, he was turned to Mexico to face investigations there after the U.S. dropped the case citing its relationship with Mexico. According to a joint statement by Mexican Attorney Alejandro Gertz Manero and his U.S counter, General William Barr, the U.S. department of justice decided to drop the charges in acknowledgment of the solid law enforcement corporation between the United States and Mexico and the interest to take a united stand against every form of criminality.
The statement went on to say that the decision for dismissal of the case was so that Cienfuegos may be tried and charged, if deemed appropriate, under the law in Mexican. Marcelo Ebrard, who is Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary said that he had given Mr. Barr and the United States an ultimatum to choose between trying Cienfuegos and having close cooperation with Mexico’s institutions.
He went on to say that the move is not a path to impunity but an act of respect for Mexico and its armed forces.
However, the move has raised questions on whether the former defense secretary will see justice in Mexico. Others feel like the decision may be politically motivated and a way for U.S. President, Donald Trump, to gift Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, after his silence to recognize the election victory of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden.
The former chief of international operations of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Mike Vigil, echoed the same sentiments saying that the decision was nothing more than decision was a ditch of favor to Mexico’s president. Mike went on to say that President Lopez has been hesitant to congratulate Joe Biden and has been compliant to U.S. president on immigration issues.
This is not the first time that Mexico has extradited major drug suspects for trial in the United States. Mexican officials have, however, not taken an official position with regards to whether Cienfuegos is guilty or not. Mexico’s president said that the Attorney’s General office will decide whether he will be placed in custody. The president went ahead to say that this does not signify impunity, but that an investigation will be started.
The acting U.S. Attorney, Seth Duchampe, wrote in court filings stating that there was strong evidence against Cienfuegos but dropping the case would be in the public interest of the United States. He wrote that the United States has recognized more important and sensitive foreign policy considerations that overshadow its interest in trying the defendant.