NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (AP) – A former Mexican presidential cabinet member was convicted in the United States (US) on Tuesday of taking massive bribes to protect the violent drug cartels he was tasked with combatting.
Under tight security, an anonymous New York federal court jury deliberated for three days before reaching a verdict in the drug trafficking case against ex-public security secretary Genaro García Luna.
He is the highest-ranking current or former Mexican official ever to be tried in the US.
“García Luna, who once stood at the pinnacle of law enforcement in Mexico, will now live the rest of his days having been revealed as a traitor to his country and to the honest members of law enforcement who risked their lives to dismantle drug cartels,” Brooklyn-based US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.
García Luna, who denied the allegations, headed Mexico’s federal police and was later the country’s top public safety official from 2006 to 2012.
His lawyers said the charges were based on lies from criminals who wanted to punish his drug-fighting efforts and to get sentencing breaks for themselves by helping prosecutors.
He showed no apparent reaction on hearing the verdict.
His lawyer, César de Castro, said that the defence planned to appeal and that the case lacked “credible and reliable evidence”.
“The government was forced to settle for a case built on the backs of some of the most notorious and ruthless criminals to have testified in this courthouse,” de Castro said outside court.
García Luna, 54, was convicted on charges that include engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.
He faces at least 20 years and as much as life in prison at his sentencing, set for June 27.
The case had political ramifications on both sides of the border.
Current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has railed throughout the trial against ex-president Felipe Calderón’s administration for, at a minimum, putting García Luna in charge of Mexico’s security.
López Obrador spokesperson Jesús Ramírez tweeted after the verdict that “justice has come” to a Calderón ally and that “the crimes committed against our people will never be forgotten”.
García Luna’s work also introduced him to high-level American politicians and other officials, who considered him a key cartel-fighting partner as Washington embarked on a USD1.6 billion push to beef up Mexican law enforcement and stem the flow of drugs.