Charges against Salvador Cienfuegos to be dropped so he may be investigated in Mexico, says US attorney general.
The United States Department of Justice is dropping its drug trafficking and money laundering charges against former Mexican Defence Secretary General Salvador Cienfuegos, US Attorney General William Barr has said.
Barr and and his Mexican counterpart Alejandro Gertz Manero said in a joint statement on Tuesday that the US will seek to drop the charges so Cienfuegos can be investigated by Mexican authorities.
“In the interests demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality, the US Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of US criminal charges against former secretary Cienfuegos so that he may be investigated, and, if appropriate, charged under Mexican law,” their statement said.
Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted that under an agreement between the offices of the Mexican and US attorney generals, Cienfuegos would “be returned to Mexico to be prosecuted here if agreed by the judge in the case.”
Cienfuegos was arrested in Los Angeles last month and charged with money laundering and drug trafficking in federal court in Brooklyn.
The former defence chief, who led Mexico’s army for six years under ex-President Enrique Pena Nieto, was the highest-ranking former cabinet official arrested since the top Mexican security official Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in 2019.
Under Cienfuegos, the Mexican army was accused of frequent human rights abuses, but that was also the case with both his predecessors and his successor in the post. The worst scandal in Cienfuegos’s tenure involved the 2014 army killings of suspects in a grain warehouse.
The June 2014 massacre involved soldiers who killed 22 suspects at the warehouse in the town of Tlatlaya.
While some died in an initial shootout with the army patrol – in which one soldier was wounded – a human rights investigation later showed that at least eight and perhaps as many as 12 suspects were executed after they surrendered.
Cienfuegos had pleaded not guilty earlier this month to drug and money laundering conspiracy charges following his October arrest.
Barr said in a joint statement with Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero that the US Justice Department had made the decision to drop the US case in recognition “of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality”.
The Justice Department said it has provided Mexico with evidence collected in the case.
“Our two countries remain committed to cooperation on this matter, as well as all our bilateral law enforcement cooperation. As the decision today reflects, we are stronger when we work together and respect the sovereignty of our nations and their institutions”, the statement said.