The United States will not judge General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s Secretary of Defense during the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto. The prosecution of that country accuses Cienfuegos of three counts of drug trafficking and one of money laundering. The military man has been in prison in the United States since mid-October. The Department of Justice and the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) have reported in a joint statement released this Tuesday that Washington will ask the judge “to dismiss the criminal charges against Cienfuegos, so that it can be investigated and, where appropriate , processed in accordance with Mexican law ”. The text states that the United States has already provided the Mexican authorities with the evidence they have gathered in the case and is committed to cooperating in the local investigations.
Chief of the Mexican Army in the last PRI Administration (2012-2018), Cienfuegos was arrested on October 15 at the Los Angeles airport. The District Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York accused him of conspiring to traffic heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines north of the Rio Grande, in addition to laundering the money derived from these illicit operations. The general had pleaded not guilty a few days ago and was awaiting the next hearing, set for this Wednesday at 10 in the morning, New York time (six hours more in mainland Spain). This hearing is now expected to help the United States drop the charges against him.
The statement released Tuesday afternoon explains that the Department of Justice “has provided Mexico with evidence in this case and is committed to continuing cooperation, within that framework, to support investigations carried out by Mexican authorities.” According to the US justice, part of the evidence is thousands of messages from Blackberry, exchanged between Cienfuegos and members of the network of drug traffickers of the H-2 cartel, which operated on the north Pacific coast of Mexico. According to the indictment, Cienfuegos supported the H-2 at least between December 2015 and February 2017.
The Mexican Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard, appeared before the press this Tuesday to expand the information and assess the news. “This means that Cienfuegos will continue its process in Mexico, that Mexican laws will be applied, because the acts of which the United States accuses it were presumably committed in Mexico. It means that the accusations must be substantiated and proven. It is a decision that we view with sympathy and that we think is positive. We do not see it as a path to impunity but as an act of respect for Mexico ”.
The decision has surprised both sides of the border, especially due to the secrecy with which the US authorities had conducted the investigation against the general. Mexican authorities were surprised by Cienfuegos’ arrest. Even the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced that he would request information from the government of the neighboring country: “We are going to see what there is about this, and yes we are going to ask the United States to let us know about these complicity operations in the in case the evidence is available ”. Ebrard himself explained that he spoke with the US attorney general, William Barr, to express his “discontent” with how the US justice had handled the case.
In the communiqué, the parties indicate that the FGR opened “its own investigation once it became known about the arrest and the charges against the general by US authorities.” In Mexico it is not known at the moment what scope the investigations against Cienfuegos have had. Ebrard has said that the United States sent the evidence at its disposal and that the FGR received it on November 11.
“One of our top priorities has to be to destroy the Mexican cartels,” prosecutor William Barr said last April at the White House. “Their activity is largely responsible for the death of 70,000 Americans a year, as we all know. And this cost does not include the families and the destroyed lives, the expense for our national wealth due to the overwhelming weight that drug trafficking supposes on the state budgets ”.
The Department of Justice itself had said in a letter to the judge that Cienfuegos could not even be released on parole due to the very high risk of flight that it represents. The Los Angeles judge became convinced of these arguments when he held him in prison unconditionally. According to the prosecution, his extensive contacts with organized crime in Mexico made it almost certain that he would elude justice. Now it will be sent to Mexico by decision of the same Department of Justice.
In a letter sent to the judge in charge of the process against Cienfuegos, Carol B. Annon, the US prosecutors have justified their request. “The Government asks the Court to dismiss the charges because there are sensitive and important foreign policy considerations that outweigh the Government’s interest in pursuing the trial against the accused. The Government has spoken with the defendant’s lawyers, who confirmed that the defendant approves the motion, ”the text reads.
The Prosecutor’s Office has insisted on the strength of the investigation. “As the Government has previously explained to the Court, the evidence in this case is solid and the accused was investigated, charged and has been prosecuted in accordance with the principles of federal prosecution,” the text continues. “However, as it is a matter of foreign policy and in recognition of the firm society when it comes to enforcing the law between Mexico and the United States, and with the intention of demonstrating our firmness against all forms of criminality, including trafficking of drugs carried out by the Mexican cartels, the Government requests that the pending charges against the accused be dismissed without prejudice, in order to allow Mexico to investigate and prosecute him.
The question now is what will happen to Cienfuegos. Ebrard has ensured that the FGR already has the evidence collected over the years by his peers in the United States. In the absence of knowing what times both governments manage to transfer the general to Mexico, the fact is that the Mexican prosecutor’s office should obtain arrest warrants before this occurs. Otherwise, the general could await his trial in freedom.
At the moment, the Prosecutor’s Office has not reported on the investigation against Cienfuegos. In the joint statement, the FGR does not say exactly when it opened its investigation. Investigators have not released more information than what appears in the statement.