Mexico: the president accuses the US DEA of manufacturing evidence in the Cienfuegos case

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador assured this Friday that his government “endorses and supports” the decision of the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) to exonerate former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and accused the US DEA of fabricating evidence in her against.

“Yesterday the Prosecutor’s Office resolved that the accusation that was fabricated against General Cienfuegos by the US agency in charge of combating drugs, by the DEA, is not applicable,” the president said at the beginning of the morning conference from the National Palace. In addition, he said that “the Government that I represent second, endorsed and supports” the decision of the FGR, which was announced this Thursday.

López Obrador suggested that there may have been political motivations behind the arrest of Cienfuegos by US authorities at Los Angeles International Airport in October, noting that the investigation had been ongoing for years, but the arrest occurred shortly before 12:30 p.m. presidential elections of the United States.

The president said that Mexican prosecutors had dropped the case because the evidence shared by the United States was worthless. “Why did they do the research that way?” López Obrador said. “No support, no proof?”

The president said that the evidence shared by the United States against Cienfuegos would be made public, because the people should see them and it had been a blow against the prestige of Mexico.

Exonerated Against U.S. Valuation

The United States accused Cienfuegos of helping a powerful drug cartel in exchange for bribes. The Office of the Attorney General of the Republic decided to exonerate the former minister of all charges.

“It was concluded that General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda never met with the criminal organization investigated by the US authorities, nor did he have any communication with them, nor did he carry out acts to protect or help those people,” the office said in a statement.

He said that Cienfuegos had not been found to have any illegal or abnormal income, nor was any evidence found “that he had issued an order to favor the criminal group in question.”

All charges were dropped and Cienfuegos, who was never arrested after being returned by US officials, is no longer under investigation.

Controversial arrest in Los Angeles

Cienfuegos was arrested in Los Angeles in October, after being secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2019. He was charged with conspiring with the H-2 cartel in Mexico helping them smuggle thousands of kilos of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana while he was secretary of defense from 2012 to 2018.

Prosecutors said the intercepted messages showed that Cienfuegos was accepting bribes in exchange for ensuring that the military did not take action against the cartel and that operations were launched against its rivals. He was also accused of introducing other corrupt Mexican officials to the cartel leaders.

Under pressure from implicit threats from Mexico to restrain or expel US agents, US prosecutors dropped their case so that Cienfuegos could be returned to Mexico and investigated under Mexican law.

Acting United States Attorney Seth DuCharme told a judge at the time: “The United States determined that the broader interest in maintaining that cooperative relationship outweighed the interest of the department and the interest of the public in pursuing this particular case. “

The straw that broke the camel’s back in cooperation between Mexico and the United States

Although the United States relented in Cienfuegos, the Mexican Congress approved a law a few weeks later that will restrict US agents in Mexico and remove their diplomatic immunity.

Mike Vigil, the former chief of international operations for the DEA, said that the removal of Cienfuegos “could be the last straw when it comes to cooperation between the US and Mexico in anti-drug activities.”

“It was predestined that Mexican justice would not advance with the prosecution of General Cienfuegos,” Vigil said. “It will greatly stain the integrity of its judicial system and despite the political rhetoric of wanting to eliminate corruption, obviously this is not the case. The rule of law has been significantly violated.”

López Obrador had a close and friendly relationship with United States President Donald Trump, and he waited longer than almost any other world leader to congratulate Joe Biden on his election. The restrictions on US agents, and López Obrador’s veiled warnings to Biden’s team to stay out of Mexican affairs, seemed to presage thorny relations. Cienfuegos’ decision can only add fuel to the fire.

Cienfuegos, a general who led Mexico’s army department for six years under President Enrique Peña Nieto, was the highest-ranking former Mexican cabinet official to arrest since senior security official Genaro García Luna was detained in Texas in 2019.