Fmr. Mexican Secretary of Defense Walks Hours After U.S. Court Dismissal

The United States has dropped drug trafficking and money laundering charges against Mexico's ex-defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos

The United States has dropped drug trafficking and money laundering charges against Mexico's ex-defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos

Former Mexican defence minister Salvador Cienfuegos was released and allowed to return home.

Cienfuegos, 72, was secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in NY in 2019.

His arrest shook the Mexican security establishment.

Mexico's former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos takes the oath before Judge Carol Bagley Amon during a hearing to consider a U.S. government request to drop drug charges, in a courtroom sketch in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S. November 18, 2020.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted that under an agreement between the offices of the Mexican and U.S. attorney generals, Cienfuegos would "be returned to Mexico to be prosecuted here if agreed by the judge in the case".

Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme told a judge at a hearing in NY that the decision to drop the charges was made by Attorney General William Barr and was based on the "balancing of interests" between pursuing prosecution and of deference to the U.S.'s relationship with Mexico.

The retired general denied the charges - which date to when he was a key figure in President Enrique Pena Nieto's 2012-2018 administration - but faced a possible life sentence if convicted.

He was flown back to Mexico later on Wednesday, according to a statement from Gertz Manero's office later on Wednesday.

Mike Vigil, the Drug Enforcement Administration's former chief of global operations, said the decision "is nothing more than a gift, a huge gift" from President Donald Trump to his Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, probably given as a favour for past help on immigration issues.

The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to drop charges against a former Mexican defense secretary, the highest-ranking Mexican official ever arrested for alleged drug trafficking, so that he "may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law".

Cienfuegos was returned to Mexico Wednesday and was promptly released.

Mexican prosecutors had opened their own investigation into Cienfuegos after his arrest in the US, the joint US-Mexico statement said.

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Speaking in Spanish, Cienfuegos told the judge he agreed to be moved to Mexico and did not expect to face persecution there.

Both the Mexican president and foreign minister emphasized that Mexico was committed to conducting a proper investigation of the powerful general.

Sapone added that he had been prepared to challenge Cienfuegos's arrest - in petitions or during the trial, if necessary - but that at the end of last week, federal prosecutors had approached him to inform him that they were considering approaching Judge Amon with a request to dismiss the charges.

Mike Vigil, a former DEA chief of global operations, said the dismissal sent "shockwaves" through that agency, where he remains in contact.

At the time of Cienfuegos' arrest, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said no charges were pending in Mexico against him.

While in office, Cienfuegos had worked closely with USA authorities and become a leading Mexican figure fighting that country's drug war.

Cienfuegos pled not guilty to the charges - which date to when he was a key figure in President Enrique Pena Nieto's 2012-2018 administration -before a NY judge last Thursday.

In remarks to reporters shortly after the announcement, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard described the dropping of the USA case as unprecedented and a sign of respect for both Mexican sovereignty as well as the Mexican military.

"There will be cooperation, but it will have to be on a different basis", he said in an interview with Proceso magazine, according to the Times. "You have to choose".

Lopez Obrador has called Garcia Luna's arrest a symbol of how Mexico became a "narco state" during the administration of Calderon, a political rival.

David Shirk, global fellow for the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars, called the dismissal a "slap in the face" to many in USA law enforcement.

"The dismissal sends a message to law enforcement and organised crime groups that the United States government is not serious about its commitment to the war on drugs".

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