Mexican president calls US charges against ex-army chief baseless

Mexico City, Jan 15 (efe-epa).- President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Friday that he supports the decision of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office not to prosecute a former defense secretary accused by the United States of colluding with drug traffickers.

“Yesterday the Attorney General’s Office resolved that the accusation fabricated against Gen. (Salvador) Cienfuegos by the US agency responsible for the battle against drugs, by the DEA,” the president, popularly known as AMLO, said during his daily press conference at the National Palace.

Cienfuegos, Mexico’s defense secretary from 2012-2018, was arrested Oct. 15 at Los Angeles International Airport on a warrant issued by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The DEA acted pursuant to a sealed 2019 indictment accusing Cienfuegos of having accepted bribes in exchange for allowing the small, since-disbanded H-2 Cartel to operate with impunity.

The Mexican government reacted to the arrest with anger, citing the DEA’s failure to advise Mexico about the charges against Cienfuegos or share the evidence that formed the basis of the indictment.

After a flurry of diplomatic activity and assurances that Mexico was pursuing its own investigation of Cienfuegos, the US Department of Justice dropped the charges and allowed the general to return home.

In its announcement late Thursday that Cienfuegos would not be prosecuted, the Mexican AG Office said that investigators “found no evidence whatsoever” of links between the general and criminal activity.

Prosecutors likewise detected no suspicious increase in Cienfuegos’ net worth.

The evidence against Cienfuegos offered by the DEA “has no probative value,” AMLO said Friday, suggesting that the timing of the general’s detention was connected to the Nov. 3 US presidential election

“All of this must be clarified,” the leftist president said.

“We maintain that it is necessary to end impunity, (and) of course, corruption. But also that there can’t be reprisals, vengeance, and that crimes can’t be invented, that nobody should act in that manner,” AMLO said.

He pledged “full transparency” in the Cienfuegos case and said that the AG Office would publish the entire file of the investigation, including the evidence presented by the DEA.

Reporters in Washington sought a response from US officials to the Mexican decision not to proceed against the former defense secretary and the Department of Justice issued a terse statement: “The United States reserves the right to recommence its prosecution of Cienfuegos if the Government of Mexico fails to do so.”

The reaction in Mexico was mixed.

While some applauded the decision not to file charges, pointing to the weakness of the DEA case against Cienfuegos, others said that AMLO’s government was allowing a criminal to go unpunished in the interest of preserving the honor of the Mexican armed forces.

“There is very prejudicial treatment on the part of social media that the exoneration equates to impunity, but the DEA investigation made no sense,” Javier Oliva, a professor and researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Efe.

Cienfuegos, a highly decorated career officer, remains very popular with the army rank and file.

Gustavo Montiel, an international relations specialist at Monterrey Tech, Mexico’s most prestigious university, said that declining to prosecute Cienfuegos “opens a very-difficult-to-manage front with the United States” and could hamper bilateral cooperation.

The controversy comes just five days before Joe Biden will be inaugurated as US president, succeeding Donald Trump.

Thursday saw the publication in the official gazette of new norms regulating the activity of foreign agents in Mexico.

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