Former Mexican army chief arrested in U.S. on drug trafficking charges

  • Former Mexican army chief arrested in U.S. on drug trafficking charges

Former Mexican army chief arrested in U.S. on drug trafficking charges

Former Mexican defence minister Salvador Cienfuegos has been arrested in the United States on undisclosed charges, Mexico's foreign minister said on Thursday. He is expected to make a court appearance in the near future where USA federal prosecutors will unveil the charges against him. Several of Mexico's former top-ranking "drug war" officials have been implicated in narcotics.

Cienfuegos, who was defence chief from 2012 to 2018, was said to have been on a trip with his family when he was detained at Los Angeles airport.

Ebrard wrote that Mexico's consul general in Los Angeles would shortly inform him of the charges facing Cienfuegos, and that the retired general would receive normal consular services.

Under Cienfuegos, the Mexican army was accused of frequent human rights abuses, but that was true of his predecessors and his successor in the post. Ebrard said Cienfuegos was arrested at L.A. global airport, as he was either arriving or leaving the country.

A Mexican diplomatic source said members of Cienfuegos' family, traveling with him at the time of the detention, have already been released.

Federal authorities in California arrested Mexico's former secretary of defense.

"This detention is going to have a powerful impact in Mexico", said military affairs analyst Raul Benitez.

Pena Nieto was in office for six years through December 2018.

The worst scandal in Cienfuegos' tenure involved the 2014 army killings of suspects in a grain warehouse.

The armed forces have taken an increasingly prominent role in fighting crime in Mexico, and generally are perceived as less prone to corruption than civilian police forces.

Cienfuegos is the highest-ranking former Cabinet official arrested since the country's top security official Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in 2019. Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas a year ago on suspicion of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from a major drug cartel he was tasked with combating.

Elements of the army in the northern state of Sinaloa have always been rumored to have links to the cartel formerly headed by crime kingpin Guzman, who controlled much of the illegal drug trade across the Western Hemisphere for nearly three decades.

While current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to go after corruption and lawbreaking under past administrations, he has also relied more heavily on the army - and charged it with more tasks, ranging from building infrastructure projects to distributing medical supplies - than any other president in recent history.