The United States Department of Justice has decided not to prosecute Mexican former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos. Justice Minister Barr said Cienfuegos will now be “investigated and possibly tried” in Mexico, he said in a joint statement with the Attorney General of Mexico.
The general was arrested at the Los Angeles airport over a month ago on suspicion of drug smuggling and money laundering. The American authorities had been looking for him for over a year by then. Cienfuegos faced a prison sentence of at least ten years.
Mexico pissed off by arrest
In the statement, Barr did not further explain why it was decided to drop the case against Cienfuegos in the US. But according to the Reuters news agency, the court documents state that “sensitive and important considerations in foreign policy” play a role.
The Mexican government would not have welcomed the arrest of Cienfuegos. The arrest had not been discussed beforehand and the Mexicans saw it as an infringement of their own sovereignty.
It is not clear from the joint statement by Justice Minister Barr and the Mexican Attorney General whether Cienfuegos in Mexico will actually be prosecuted. However, the Americans have transferred all the evidence to Mexico and Mexican Foreign Minister Ebrard says that an “open investigation” is being started into Cienfuegos.
Cienfuegos will likely fly back to Mexico soon.
Under former president Peña Nieto, 72-year-old Cienfuegos was in charge of the military for six years, between 2012 and 2018. During that time, according to the DEA, the US government agency that fights illegal drugs, he was the so-called H-2 cartel. facilitated drug trafficking and deployed the military against rival cartels.
US prosecutors labeled Cienfuegos last month as a risk of flight. They feared that once the former minister would attempt to flee the US via friendly cartel members, and then go into hiding in Mexico.
Human rights violations
During the time when Cienfuegos was chief of defense, the Mexican army was accused of violating human rights. In 2014, for example, in a shooting near a department store between the army and a criminal gang, 22 suspects were killed. An investigation later revealed that many suspects had already surrendered when they were shot.
Arrest warrants were also issued this year for military personnel alleged to have been involved in the disappearance and death of 43 students six years ago.