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US threatens to halt intel sharing in Mexican drug row

The US Justice Department on Saturday threatened to end law enforcement cooperation with Mexico after President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador accused American authorities of fabricating drug trafficking evidence against a former Mexican defense chief.

General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda served as Mexico's defence secretary for six years (Picture by EPA)
General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda served as Mexico’s defence secretary for six years (Picture by EPA)

“The United States Department of Justice fully stands by its investigation” of Salvador Cienfuegos, a department spokesperson said, saying that investigation materials released by Mexico on the case were “not fabricated.”

Mexico’s publicizing of investigation materials, the department added, violated an agreement between the two countries.

That action “calls into question whether the United States can continue to share information to support Mexico’s own criminal investigations,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Earlier the department said it retained the right to restart the prosecution of Cienfuegos “if the Government of Mexico fails to do so.”

The United States arrested Cienfuegos, who was defense minister in ex-president Enrique Pena Nieto’s 2012-2018 government, in October on charges that he conspired to produce and distribute “thousands of kilograms” of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana.

The stunning arrest at Los Angeles airport was an alleged indication of how high corruption went in the Mexican government.

– ‘The Godfather’ –

According to the US indictment, Cienfuegos, a 72-year-old retired general nicknamed “The Godfather,” took bribes “to help the H-2 Cartel, an extremely violent Mexican drug trafficking organization.”

The prosecution said the evidence included thousands of intercepted Blackberry messages between Cienfuegos and cartel members.

But the case immediately sparked a diplomatic rift, and Lopez Obrador complained that the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had acted behind his back.

It put Lopez Obrador, who has had cordial relations with outgoing US President Donald Trump, in an uncomfortable position because he has close links to the military and has given it increased responsibilities in fighting drug cartels.

Under Mexico City pressure, the US agreed to drop its charges and send Cienfuegos back to his country for prosecution in November.

On Thursday Mexican prosecutors dropped the case. The attorney general’s office said it had concluded that Cienfuegos never met with the cartel members despite what the US said.

“He did not have any communication with them, nor did he carry out acts intended to protect or help those individuals,” it said.

Because of the case Mexico has threatened to strip diplomatic immunity from DEA agents who operate in the country under an agreement between the two governments.

Lopez Obrador on Friday accused the DEA of fabricating Cienfuegos’ alleged crimes.

The Justice Department insisted that the materials used to charge Cienfuegos were not fabricated and were collected legally.

The information “was lawfully gathered,” based on a proper court order and “in full respect of Mexico’s sovereignty,” the department said. AFP

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