Mexican ex-defence minister charged with drug trafficking, money laundering in US

NEW YORK (AFP) – A former Mexican defence minister has been detained in the United States (US) and charged with drug trafficking and money laundering in the latest high-profile arrest linked to the country’s powerful cartels.

Salvador Cienfuegos, a key figure in ex-president Enrique Pena Nieto’s 2012-2018 government, was detained at Los Angeles airport on Thursday while on a trip with his family.

He is accused of conspiring to produce and distribute “thousands of kilogrammes” of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana in the US between December 2015 and February 2017, documents released by federal prosecutors in New York said.

The 72-year-old retired general nicknamed “The Godfather” allegedly abused his position “to help the H-2 Cartel, an extremely violent Mexican drug trafficking organisation”, according to the documents.

“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,” the indictment said.

The prosecution said the evidence included thousands of Blackberry messages between Cienfuegos and cartel members intercepted by the authorities.

The indictment was filed by the New York City District Attorney’s Office in August 2019, but was only released on Friday.

Cienfuegos made a brief appearance before a Los Angeles judge by teleconference to acknowledge the three counts of drug trafficking and one of money laundering.