Former Mexican Government Minister of War on Drugs Arrested in the U.S.
A former minister who was considered an architect of Mexico’s war on drugs has been arrested on charges that he allowed the Sinaloa cartel to operate with impunity in exchange for briefcases stuffed with cash.
Genaro García Luna, who oversaw the creation of Mexico’s federal police, was arrested in Texas on Monday.
He helped oversee the militarized crackdown on organized crime which was launched in 2006 by the then president, Felipe Calderón, and has continued with slight modifications ever since.
But according to the indictment against him unsealed on Tuesday, García Luna “received millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa cartel in exchange for providing protection for its drug trafficking activities”.
“García Luna stands accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel while he controlled Mexico’s federal police force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico,” said US attorney Richard P Donoghue.
“Today’s arrest demonstrates our resolve to bring to justice those who help cartels inflict devastating harm on the United States and Mexico, regardless of the positions they held while committing their crimes.”
García Luna led Mexico’s federal investigation agency from 2001 to 2005, and from 2006 to 2012, he served under Calderón as secretary of public security.
Calderón deployed troops against the cartels in December 2006, but the crackdown unleashed a wave of violence which has claimed more than 200,000 lives, left more than 35,000 missing and continues today.
The arrest of Calderón’s right-hand man delivers a serious blow to the former leader, a prominent critic of the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has promised a “hugs not bullets” strategy of tackling the social roots of crime.
“This is a bombshell,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a commentator in Mexico City. “There’s never been a detention of such a high-ranking Mexican official.”
Calderón stood steadfastly by García Luna despite growing allegations of impropriety and accusations that security forces concentrated their efforts against the Sinaloa cartel’s rivals.
A 2010 analysis of crime figures by NPR found that only 12% of people arrested, prosecuted or sentenced for drug, organised crime and weapons offences had ties to the Sinaloa cartel.
“This guy probably knows where all the bodies are buried and all other kinds of secrets involving political figures – the most important aspect of drug trafficking together with the money trail,” said Jorge Kawas, a security analyst in the northern city of Monterrey.
On Tuesday Calderón tweeted that he only learned of the arrest through social media. “My position will always be in favour of justice and the law,” he said.
According to the indictment, cartel bagmen twice delivered briefcases containing millions of dollars to García Luna. In 2018, former cartel member Jesús Zambada testified at the trial of the Sinaloa kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán that he personally made at least $6m in hidden payments to García Luna, on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
In exchange for the bribes, the Sinaloa cartel obtained safe passage for its drug shipments, inside details of police investigations, and information about rival drug cartels, the indictment said.
García Luna departed Mexico after Calderón left office in December 2012. Prosecutors allege García Luna lied to US authorities about his activities for the cartel when he applied for naturalization in 2018.
“According to financial records obtained by the government, by the time García Luna relocated to the United States in 2012, he had amassed a personal fortune of millions of dollars,” the indictment said.
Mike Vigil, a former DEA chief of international operations, said he and other US anti-narcotics agents had worked closely with García Luna. “I never saw any issue of corruption, any issue which compromised any of our operations,” he said. “Whatever we needed, he provided without question. We probably worked better with him than any other Mexican official.”
García Luna is charged with drug-trafficking conspiracy and making false statements. If convicted on the drug-trafficking charges, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and could receive a life sentence.
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