The U.S. Department of Justice will seek dismissal of criminal charges against a former Mexican defense minister who was arrested last month at Los Angeles International Airport on drug trafficking and money laundering charges so that he may be investigated and possibly charged under Mexican law, it was announced Tuesday.
Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda — Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018 — was arrested Oct. 15 after arriving at LAX with several family members, becoming the first high-ranking military official to be taken into custody in the United States in connection with drug-related corruption in his country.
The top prosecutors of both the United States and Mexico, lauding the “strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States,” issued a statement saying the DOJ made the decision at the request of Mexico, “and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality.”
According to U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Fiscalia General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero, the DOJ, under the treaty that governs the sharing of evidence, provided Mexico with evidence in the case “and commits to continued cooperation, within that framework, to support the investigation by Mexican authorities.”
“Our two countries remain committed to cooperation on this matter, as well as all our bilateral law enforcement cooperation,” the statement reads. “As the decision today reflects, we are stronger when we work together and respect the sovereignty of our nations and their institutions. This close partnership increases the security of the citizens of both our countries.”
After his arrest at LAX, Cienfuegos — nicknamed El Padrino, or The Godfather — was ordered to be transported to the Eastern District of New York to face trial, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
A four-count indictment unsealed last month in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn accused the 72-year-old retired general of drug trafficking and money laundering, alleging he allowed a drug-trafficking cartel to operate in Mexico in exchange for bribes.
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