Mexico Clears Ex-Top Official Who Faced U.S. Charges

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Mexican authorities will  not bring charges against a former top military official who was arrested in the U.S. last year on drug-trafficking and corruption charges, only to be sent home at the request of the outraged Mexican government, the New York Times reports. Former defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda had been accused by the U.S. authorities of taking bribes in exchange for protecting drug cartel leaders. He was arrested at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s request in Los Angeles in October. His exoneration in Mexico came as a shocking about-face after the authorities had promised to bring the full weight of the Mexican justice system to bear in the case. In November, the country’s foreign minister said that doing nothing after having demanded the general’s return to Mexico would be “almost suicidal.”

Cienfuegos was known as “El Padrino,” or The Godfather, by one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels. Officials said he directed military operations away from the criminal group in exchange for large sums of cash. The U.S. Justice Department abruptly dropped the case against him in November, and he was allowed back to Mexico. On Thursday night, the Mexican attorney general’s office said Cienfuegos — who served as defense minister under President Enrique Peña Nieto from 2012 to 2018 — “never had any encounter with the members of the criminal organization.” The agency said he had not provided protection to cartel members and had never received any “illegal income.” The news was a  blow to U.S. officials, who were stunned by the Justice Department’s decision to free Cienfuegos and allow him to face justice in Mexico. The DOJ said the U.S. “reserves the right to recommence its prosecution of Cienfuegos if the Government of Mexico fails to do so.”

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