Former Mexican defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos was busted at Los Angeles International Airport on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, according to US and Mexican sources.
Cienfuegos was taken into custody on a US Drug Enforcement Administration warrant Thursday, two people with knowledge of the arrest told the Associated Press.
Both were not authorized to publicly discuss the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A senior Mexican official, who also wished to remain anonymous, said Cienfuegos was arrested when he arrived at the airport with his family.
While Cienfuegos’ family members were released, he was taken to the Metropolitan Detention Center, according to the official.
Mexico’s foreign minister, Marcelo Ebrard, tweeted Thursday night that US Ambassador Christopher Landau has informed him of Cienfuegos’ arrest, and that the retired general has the right to receive consular assistance.
He then tweeted early Friday that Cienfuegos will be transferred to New York, and his lawyer will arrive in a few hours from Mexico.
The exact charges against Cienfuegos are expected to be announced in the US Friday afternoon but Ebrard confirmed he faces five charges related to drug trafficking. There is no drug-related investigation of Cienfuegos in Mexico, he said.
Cienfuegos, 72, who has retired from active duty, led Mexico’s army from 2012 to 2018 under ex-President Enrique Peña Nieto.
Current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador called the arrest “regrettable” Friday.
“This is an unmistakable example of the decomposition of the government, of how civil service was degrading, the government service during the neoliberal period,” López Obrador said.
Meanwhile, he asserted that the current leaders of the army and navy are “incorruptible.”
Cienfuegos is the highest-ranking former Cabinet official arrested since Mexican security official Genaro Garcia Luna’s bust on drug trafficking charges in Texas last year.
Garcia Luna, who served under former President Felipe Calderón, has pleaded not guilty.
With Post wires
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