Former Mexican defense minister arrested at LAX

Mexico's ex-defense minister detained in US on DEA warrant

Cienfuegos, arrested at Los Angeles airport on Thursday, took bribes in return for protection that included warning cartel members about USA investigations, according to prosecutors in NY who have charged him with five counts of drug trafficking and money laundering.

Sources said he was arrested at the request of the DEA.

Mexico's former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos used his power in office to protect the Beltran-Leyva cartel, directing military operations against rival gangs and even finding maritime transport to ship drugs, US prosecutors said.

Ebrard wrote that Mexico's consul general in Los Angeles would shortly inform him of the charges facing Cienfuegos, and that the retired general would receive normal consular services. Mexico's Defense Department had no immediate reaction to the arrest.

Cienfuegos is accused of alerting cartel leaders to a U.S. law enforcement investigation into its operations and the use of cooperating witnesses and informants, which resulted in the murder of a member of the cartel that leaders incorrectly believed was assisting United States law enforcement authorities.

Cienfuegos served as Mexico's top military official during the administration of former President Enrique Pena Nieto.

The latest arrest could lead US authorities to pursue even more prominent targets, said Mike Vigil, former head of worldwide operations for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

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According to Mexican media reports, he was detained by U.S. authorities when he arrived on a trip with his family.

"Prosecutors and federal agencies (in the US) always look for information from detainees like Cienfuegos that leads them to people at the same level or above".

During Pena Nieto's presidency, some members of the armed forces faced accusations by human rights groups in connection with the case of 43 students who went missing in 2014 in a case that shocked the country.

Under Lopez Obrador, the armed forces have taken on more responsibility, including establishing a militarised national police force [File: Henry Romero/Reuters]"It is very regrettable that a defence secretary is arrested, accused of links with drug trafficking", Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at his daily news conference on Friday.

Felipe Calderón, Peña Nieto's predecessor, used the army - one of the country's few institutions which enjoys widespread public support - in a bloody campaign against Mexico's drug cartels.

"We didn't ask to be here. We didn't study how to chase criminals", he said. "We are doing things that don't correspond to our training because there's no one else to do them", the minister said.

Mexico's former public security minister from 2006 to 2012, Genaro Garcia Luna, was detained in Texas in December 2019 on charges of taking huge bribes to allow the notorious Sinaloa Cartel ship drugs into the USA, which he denies.

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