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Mexico’s former Secretariat of National Defense facing U.S. drug charges

Mexico City, Mexico — In a public address, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged the arrest of a former Sedena head and indicated that there is no investigation against him in Mexico. The public address came on the following day of the news of the arrest of Salvador Cienfuegos, former head of the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena).

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was detained by United States authorities at the Los Angeles airport Thursday evening. The arrest was confirmed by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard through social media, in which he says he was informed of the arrest by U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau.

Since his arrest, the 72-year-old former head of Sedena has been transferred to an L.A. federal court and charged with drug offenses. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, among others, was referred to during the Guzmán Loera (El Chapo) drug trial for taking bribes.

He served as Mexico’s head of the Secretariat of National Defense during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador acknowledged that two weeks ago, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Marta Bárcena, informed him of an investigation in which the general was involved.

“I was informed 15 days ago by the Mexican ambassador to the United States, Marta Bárcena, that there was talk of an investigation that was being carried out and that involved Mr. General Cienfuegos, but there was nothing official.

“There are open files in the United States regarding Guzmán Loera and García Luna. There was an investigation related to the secretary during Peña Nieto’s six-year term,” he said.

General Cienfuegos was arrested on a US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warrant and charged by the United States Department of Justice with a series of charges that link him to the Beltrán Leyva cartel. File No. 19-366 (CBA) (EDNY) indicates that Cienfuegos helped the criminal organization expand from Mazatlán to the rest of Sinaloa.

“The government respectfully issues this letter, in support of its request for a permanent arrest warrant for the accused Salvador Cienfuegos. The defendant held the position of Secretary of National Defense in Mexico from 2012 to 2018. The defendant abused that public office to help the H-2 Cartel, an extremely violent Mexican drug trafficking organization, to traffic thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana to the United States, including New York City.

“In exchange for bribes, he allowed the H-2 Cartel, a cartel that habitually engages in widespread violence, including torture and murder, to operate with impunity in Mexico,” the indictment says.

The document states that a grand jury meeting in the Eastern District of New York accused the former official of drug trafficking and money laundering crimes. Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon of the United States issued an arrest warrant for the defendant.

The H-2 Cartel is a split from the Beltrán Leyva criminal organization. According to U.S. authorities, it is an extremely violent group whose tactics are based on torture and murder. Its leader, Juan Francisco Patron, alias “H2” and / or “Chico”, was killed during a navy operation in 2017, at the Tepic Airport in Nayarit.