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DOJ Drops Charges Against Former Mexican Defense Minister, Wants Mexico to Take Over Prosecution

Mexico’s defense Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos attends an event at a military zone in Mexico City, Mexico September 2, 2016. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

The Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it would drop drug trafficking charges against former Mexico defense minister General Salvador Cienfuegos, allowing Mexico to prosecute the case instead.

Cienfuegos was arrested in October after flying into Los Angeles, and subsequently charged with taking bribes from the H-2 cartel, based in Nayarit and Sinaloa. While serving as defense minister from 2012 to 2018, Cienfuegos allowed the cartel to operate while directing military operations against its rivals, the DOJ alleges.

However, the U.S. has decided to allow Mexico to prosecute the case, according to a joint statement from U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Mexico Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero.

“In recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States,” the DOJ is seeking to dismiss the charges against Cienfuegos “so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law,” the attorneys general said.

The judge overseeing the case has not yet agreed to dismiss charges.

The arrest of Cienfuegos marked the highest-level Mexican government official ever taken into custody on charges of aiding drug cartels.

“There has never been a minister of defense in Mexico arrested,” Jorge Castañeda, a former Mexican foreign minister, told the New York Times in October. “The minister of defense in Mexico is a guy that not only runs the army and is a military man, but he reports directly to the president. There is no one above him except the president.”

In fall 2019, the U.S. also arrested the former head of Mexico police Genaro Garcia Luna, who is accused of providing for the Sinaloa cartel to import tons of cocaine into the U.S. during his tenure from 2006 to 2012.

Send a tip to the news team at NR.

Zachary Evans is a news writer for National Review Online. He is a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces and a trained violist.

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