Mexico says ex-defense minister arrested in US

Mexico says ex-defense minister arrested in US

Former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who has been arrested in Los Angeles, is now facing five charges in the United States related to drug trafficking, Mexico's foreign minister has said.

Mexico's Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter that US Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau informed him of the detention.

Zepeda is the most recent in a line of corrupt Mexican officials and cartel leaders who have been prosecuted by Brooklyn federal authorities.

The Wall Street Journal, quoting an unnamed senior Mexican government official, said Cienfuegos was detained at the request of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

According to documents filed by USA prosecutors, Cienfuegos helped a drug trafficking organization dubbed the "H-2 cartel", by ensuring military operations weren't conducted against them, acting against their rivals, introducing cartel leaders to other corrupt officials and warning the cartel about US investigations.

Mexico authorities don't identify any drug cartel as H-2, which, according to USA officials, was led by Juan Francisco Patron Sanchez.

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The indictment was filed by the New York City District Attorney's Office on August 14, 2019, but was only released Friday. He could face a mandatory sentence of at least 10 years in prison if convicted on the conspiracy charges alone. 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. Cienfuegos' arrest appears to be the first of a top-ranking Mexican military officer in the ongoing fight against drug cartels. He was expected to be transferred to NY, where his case is being handled.

On Friday, 16 October, President Lopez Obrador - who is universally known as AMLO - said General Cienfuegos's arrest showed the degree to which corruption had permeated the previous government, which had been led by the PRI party. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Lopez Obrador, who came to power in 2018 promising to crack down on corruption, added that the arrests are a clear indication that Mexico was previously run by "a narco-government and without doubt a mafia government".

Cienfuegos is not under investigation in Mexico, Lopez Obrador said.

Under Lopez Obrador, the armed forces have taken on more responsibility, including establishing a militarised national police force, overseeing port security and working on infrastructure projects. He had served as Mexico's Secretary of Public Security from 2006 to 2012 under then-President Felipe Calderon.

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