Exmil­i­tary leader ar­rested in U.S. on drug, money charges

San Francisco Chronicle - - WORLD - By Ste­fanie Dazio Ste­fanie Dazio is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

Mex­ico’s former de­fense sec­re­tary helped smug­gle thou­sands of kilo­grams of co­caine, heroin, metham­phetamine and mar­i­juana into the United States in ex­change for bribes, ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments un­sealed Fri­day in New York City.

Gen. Sal­vador Cien­fue­gos Zepeda, 72, acted on be­half of the H2 car­tel while de­fense sec­re­tary from 2012 to 2018 un­der former Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto, au­thor­i­ties said.

He was ar­rested Thurs­day upon ar­rival at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional Air­port. A se­nior Mex­i­can of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity, said Cien­fue­gos was ar­rested with fam­ily mem­bers who were re­leased and he was taken to the Metropoli­tan De­ten­tion Cen­ter.

Thou­sands of in­ter­cepted Black­berry mes­sages show the gen­eral en­sured mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions were not con­ducted against the car­tel and that op­er­a­tions were ini­ti­ated against ri­vals, ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors.

Cien­fue­gos, 72, was in­dicted by a grand jury in the East­ern District of New York on Aug. 14, 2019. He is ex­pected to be trans­ferred to New York, where his case is be­ing han­dled.

Cien­fue­gos is the high­es­trank­ing former Cabi­net of­fi­cial ar­rested since top Mex­i­can se­cu­rity of­fi­cial Ge­naro Gar­cia Luna was taken into cus­tody in Texas in 2019. Gar­cia Luna, who served un­der former Pres­i­dent Felipe Calderon, has pleaded not guilty to drug traf­fick­ing charges.

The ar­rest of Cien­fuego is a tough blow for Mex­ico, where the army and navy are some of the few re­main­ing re­spected pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.

Cur­rent Pres­i­dent An­dres Manuel Lopez Obrador has vowed to go af­ter cor­rup­tion and law­break­ing un­der past ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Re­becca Black­well / As­so­ci­ated Press 2016

Re­tired Gen. Sal­vador Cien­fue­gos (left) joins former Pres­i­dent En­rique Peña Ni­eto at a mil­i­tary pa­rade in Mex­ico City in 2016.

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