Former Mexican Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on a warrant from the Drug Enforcement Administration, three US law enforcement officials told NBC News.
The arrest was confirmed by the Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard on Twitter, who said he was informed of the detention by the US Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau.
“The Consul in Los Angeles will inform me of the allegations in the next few hours,”
The allegations along with the exact details and circumstances of the arrest have yet to be announced. DEA officials did not specify which DEA office was handling the Cienfuegos case.
General Cienfuegos, 72, served as Defense Minister from 2012 to 2018 under former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and was a powerful figure in the country’s drug war, where the military fought cartels across the country .
Peña Nieto was in office for six years until December 2018. Several members of his cabinet and party have been implicated in high-level corruption cases, sometimes with allegations of links to organized crime.
Under Cienfuegos, the army was charged with extrajudicial executions and human rights abuses, including the 2014 Tlatlaya massacre, in which 22 members of the drug gang were executed.
The military has taken on an increasingly important role in fighting crime in Mexico and has been considered by some to be less prone to corruption than the police force.
Cienfuegos’s detention comes in the wake of the arrest of former President Felipe Calderon’s security minister, Genaro Garcia Luna in Texas in 2019.
Luna is on trial in New York on charges of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel, which he was tasked with fighting.
Elements of the military in the northern state of Sinaloa have long been rumored to have ties to the cartel formerly led by crime boss Guzman, which controlled much of the illegal drug trade across the Western Hemisphere for nearly three decades.
Guzman is now in a US prison after being sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years in July.
The governments of the United States and Mexico have described Guzman’s arrest and sentencing as a major victory, but analysts say his Sinaloa cartel continued to buzz without him in his reign of terror from his base in Culiacan .
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Cienfuegos’ high-level arrest comes less than three weeks before the US presidential election.
President Donald Trump, seeking a second term, made cracking down on cartel activity an important political goal when he took office in 2017.
The war against the cartels has put a strain on the Mexican people. There have been 150,000 organized crime-related murders in Mexico since 2006, according to a Congressional research report released this year. According to the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, some 73,000 people were also reported missing from 2007 to mid-2020.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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