NEW YORK – U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday formally dropped a drug trafficking and cash laundering case in opposition to a former Mexican protection secretary, a choice that got here after Mexico threatened to chop off cooperation with U.S. authorities except the overall was despatched residence.
A decide in New York Metropolis authorized the dismissal of expenses, capping a lightning-fast turnaround within the case of former Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested simply weeks in the past in Los Angeles, however will likely be returned to Mexico below an uncommon diplomatic deal between the 2 nations.
The choice to drop the case was a humiliation for america, which had touted the arrest as a significant breakthrough when Cienfuegos was taken into custody Oct. 15. However the arrest drew a loud protest from prime officers in Mexico and threatened to break the fragile relationship that allows investigators in each nations to pursue drug kingpins collectively.
“The US decided that the broader curiosity in sustaining that relationship in a cooperative method outweighed the division’s curiosity and the general public’s curiosity in pursuing this explicit case,” Seth DuCharme, the appearing U.S. Lawyer in Brooklyn, informed the decide at a listening to.
He mentioned the choice to drop the costs was made by Lawyer Common William Barr.
Cienfuegos was secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2019. He was accused of conspiring with the H-2 cartel in Mexico to smuggle hundreds of kilos of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana whereas he was protection secretary from 2012 to 2018.
Prosecutors mentioned intercepted messages confirmed that Cienfuegos accepted bribes in trade for guaranteeing the navy didn’t take motion in opposition to the cartel and that operations had been initiated in opposition to its rivals. He was additionally accused of introducing cartel leaders to different corrupt Mexican officers.
Mexican officers complained that the U.S. didn’t share proof in opposition to Cienfuegos and that his arrest got here as a shock. It additionally brought on alarm inside Mexico’s navy, which has performed a vital position in operations in opposition to drug cartels.
Mexico has repeatedly extradited main drug suspects, together with at the very least some former elected officers, for trial in america. Within the case of Cienfuegos, Mexican officers have taken no official place on whether or not he’s harmless or responsible, saying that was as much as the lawyer normal’s workplace to resolve.
However they’ve depicted his return as a victory for Mexico’s sovereignty and its demand to be handled as an equal associate by america, an odd place given that the majority suppose that Mexico’s courtroom system — and corrupt officers — are the weak hyperlinks within the nation’s struggle in opposition to drug trafficking.
Mexican Overseas Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard mentioned Wednesday that he informed Barr that the U.S. had to decide on between attempting Cienfuegos and having continued cooperation.
“It’s in your palms. You possibly can’t have each,” Ebrard mentioned he informed Barr. “You can not have shut cooperation with all of Mexico’s establishments and on the similar time do that.”
Whereas Ebrard mentioned he didn’t threaten any “particular motion,” like limiting U.S. brokers in Mexico, he mentioned of Barr: “I think about it nervous him.” He additionally mentioned he referred to as in U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau to precise Mexico’s displeasure.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador mentioned Mexico’s Lawyer Common’s Workplace would resolve whether or not Cienfuegos was positioned in custody as soon as he’s returned. However on condition that there are not any expenses but in Mexico, he’s prone to be let out.
“This doesn’t signify impunity; it implies that an investigation will likely be began,” López Obrador mentioned.
“Gen. Cienfuegos returns to Mexico as a free man,” Ebrard mentioned.
It’s uncommon for a extremely prized defendant in a U.S. case to be arrested after which launched briefly order for causes of diplomacy. But it surely’s not unprecedented, although traditionally it has been extra prone to happen in instances involving espionage than drug trafficking.
U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan have not too long ago resisted diplomatic efforts by one other U.S. ally, Turkey, to get expenses dropped in opposition to a big state-owned financial institution accused of violating sanctions on Iran.
Cienfuegos, a normal who led Mexico’s military division for six years below then-President Enrique Peña Nieto, was the highest-ranking former Mexican Cupboard official arrested since prime safety official Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in 2019.
Analysts mentioned Cienfuegos is unlikely to face expenses in Mexico.
“That’s not going to occur, everyone knows it,” wrote columnist Carlos Loret de Mola within the newspaper El Common. “He’ll return to Mexico and be let out, as a result of that’s the promise that President López Obrador made to the military.”
Below an settlement signed by prosecutors and the overall, Cienfuegos would depart the U.S. for Mexico “expeditiously within the custody of the U.S. Marshals,” Choose Carol Bagley Amon mentioned. He wouldn’t be capable to contest his removing or declare asylum within the U.S.
Exterior the Brooklyn courthouse, protection lawyer Edward Sapone mentioned he anticipated Cienfuegos to be returned to Mexico Wednesday. He famous that Cienfuegos has pleaded not responsible and had deliberate to show his innocence.
“We’re very blessed justice was carried out right now,” Sapone mentioned as individuals protesting his consumer’s launch carried indicators and chanted close by. He added that his consumer’s plans “within the quick future are to stay along with his household as a free man.”
Cienfuegos spoke little in courtroom, answering a number of questions from the decide by means of an interpreter.
Barr mentioned in a press release Tuesday that the Justice Division would drop its case so Cienfuegos might be investigated below Mexican legislation.
“I’ve no cause to doubt the sincerity of the federal government’s place,” Amon mentioned in granting the request to drop the case.
In a joint assertion with Mexican Lawyer Common Alejandro Gertz Manero, Barr mentioned that the U.S. Justice Division had made the choice to drop the case in recognition “of the sturdy legislation enforcement partnership between Mexico and america, and within the pursuits of demonstrating our united entrance in opposition to all types of criminality.”
The Justice Division mentioned it has offered Mexico with proof collected within the case.
López Obrador has entrusted Mexico’s military and navy with a broader vary of duties than most different earlier Mexican presidents, and he confronted stress to win Cienfuegos’ return.
The previous ruling Institutional Revolutionary Celebration had beforehand referred to as on Mexico’s authorities to pay Cienfuegos’ authorized charges, and on Tuesday it celebrated the choice to drop the costs. Celebration chief Alejandro Moreno wrote in his Twitter account that the social gathering “resolutely helps Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos. … We should always all congratulate ourselves and at all times help our armed forces.”
On Tuesday, Ebrard denied the choice was associated to the U.S. election or López Obrador’s failure to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. Ebrard mentioned he spoke with Barr on Oct. 26, every week earlier than the U.S. election.
Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s former chief of worldwide operations, mentioned the choice “is nothing greater than a present, an enormous reward” from President Donald Trump to López Obrador, most likely given as a favor for previous assistance on immigration points.
He mentioned the probabilities of Cienfuegos being convicted in Mexico are “slim to none,” noting the previous protection secretary’s political connections in Mexico and the nation’s idolization of the navy.
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