BROOKLYN (CN) — The U.S. government Tuesday evening announced plans to drop drug trafficking and money laundering charges against former Mexican defense secretary Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who was set to appear in a federal court in Brooklyn Wednesday, so he may be tried in Mexico instead.
In a now-unsealed letter to the court, filed Monday and amended Tuesday, Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme asked Senior U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon to dismiss without prejudice charges against the 72-year-old retired general.
“[T]he United States has determined that sensitive and important foreign policy considerations outweigh the government’s interest in pursuing the prosecution of the defendant, under the totality of the circumstances, and therefore require dismissal of the case,” DuCharme wrote.
The letter goes on to say that Mexican government officials were not aware of the sealed U.S. indictment at the time of Cienfuegos’ arrest, and had in fact started their own investigation into his conduct.
After discussions between the neighboring nations, DuCharme says, the U.S. decided to dismiss charges “so that Mexico could proceed first with investigating and potentially prosecuting the defendant under Mexican law for the alleged conduct at issue, which occurred in Mexico.”
Cienfuegos is charged with four counts of conspiracy to manufacture and distribute heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, as well as conspiracy to launder proceeds from selling narcotics.
“In exchange for bribe payments, he permitted the H-2 Cartel — a cartel that routinely engaged in wholesale violence, including torture and murder — to operate with impunity in Mexico,” DuCharme wrote in an Oct. 16 detention memo.
Now, DuCharme writes, the Mexican government should take the next steps in prosecuting Cienfuegos. Should the court order the sought-after dismissal, Cienfuegos will be transported to Mexico in custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Mexico’s own investigation fits with statements by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador who, upon Cienfuegos’ arrest, pledged to suspend or remove any active officials linked to the former defense secretary, who managed the country’s army and air force from 2012 to 2018.
López Obrador spoke about the broad extent of corruption indicated by several other recent prosecutions, including that of Sinaloa cartel drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who received a life sentence. Testimony during Guzmán’s trial tied the country’s organized crime to the highest reaches of Mexico’s government.
And in December 2019, Genaro García Luna, who served as Mexico’s minister of public security under former President Felipe Calderón, was arrested on drug trafficking charges. He now awaits trial in Brooklyn.
“I have always said that it was not just one single crisis but a process of progressive degradation,” López Obrador said regarding Cienfuegos and the others, in remarks translated by the editor of Mexico Business.
U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr released a joint statement Tuesday with Mexico’s Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero, explaining the plan to drop charges against Cienfuegos.
“In recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality, the U.S. Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of the U.S. criminal charges against former Secretary Cienfuegos, so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law,” the joint statement reads.
The release goes on to say that, at Manero’s request, the U.S. Department of Justice has shared evidence with Mexico under a treaty between the two nations.
“As the decision today reflects, we are stronger when we work together and respect the sovereignty of our nations and their institutions,” the statement says. “This close partnership increases the security of the citizens of both our countries.”Follow @NinaPullano
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