Former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda has been arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on a drug war, three U.S. law enforcement officials told NBC News late Thursday.
The arrest was confirmed by Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard via Twitter, who said he had been informed of the detention by US Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau.
“The consul in Los Angeles will keep me informed of the allegations for the next few hours,” Ebrard wrote. “I will keep you in touch.”
The charges, along with the exact details and circumstances of the arrest, have not yet been announced. DEA officials did not specify which DEA office was handling the Cienfuegos case.
The 72-year-old General Cienfuegos was defense minister from 201
Penya Nieto held office for six years until December 2018. Several members of his cabinet and party are involved in high-level corruption cases, sometimes involving allegations of links to organized crime.
Under Cienfuegos, the military was charged with extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses, including the 2014 massacre in Tlattay, where 22 drug gang members were executed.
The armed forces are playing an increasingly important role in the fight against crime in Mexico, and some see them as less prone to corruption than the police force.
Cienfuegos’ detention comes after the arrest of former Secretary of Security Felipe Calderon’s Genaro Garcia Luna in Texas in 2019.
Luna is on trial in New York on suspicion of receiving multimillion-dollar bribes from Joaquin’s El Chapo Guzman Sinaloa cartel, which he was tasked with fighting.
It has long been rumored that elements of the army in northern Sinaloa have ties to a cartel formerly led by the criminal King Guzman, who has controlled much of the illicit drug trade in the Western Hemisphere for nearly three decades.
Guzman is currently in a U.S. prison after being sentenced to life in prison for 30 years in July.
The US and Mexican governments have portrayed Guzman’s arrest and conviction as a major victory, but analysts say his Sinaloa cartel has continued to hum without terror in its terror management from its Culiacan base.
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The high-level arrest of Cienfuegos comes less than three weeks before the US presidential election.
President Donald Trump, seeking a second term, made restricting the cartel’s activities a major political goal when he took office in 2017.
The war against the cartels inflicted heavy casualties on the Mexican people. 150,000 organized crime killings have taken place in Mexico since 2006, according to a congressional research report released this year. About 73,000 people have also been reported missing between 2007 and mid-2020, according to the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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