In shock move, U.S. to drop charges against ex-Mexican defense minister
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The United States will drop drug charges against former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos and turn over the investigation of his alleged crimes to Mexico, officials said on Tuesday, after the Mexican government had chafed U.S. prosecutors’ handling of the case.
The surprise decision to drop U.S. charges in the politically charged case was announced in a joint statement on Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Mexico’s attorney general’s office.
The arrest of Cienfuegos, a retired army general who for years worked closely with U.S. counterparts on highly sensitive cross-border security cases, put a severe strain on security ties between the two countries. Mexico was not forewarned of the investigation and arrest.
In retaliation, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador threatened to review cooperation agreements that establish how U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents operate in the country.
“The U.S. Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of the U.S. criminal charges against former Secretary Cienfuegos, so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law.” the joint statement said.
It cited the neighboring countries’ “strong law enforcement partnership” as justification for the move.
The DOJ said it had provided Mexico with evidence in the case and committed to support the investigation led by Mexican authorities.
Cienfuegos, who also served as head of the military, had pleaded not guilty earlier this month to drug and money laundering conspiracy charges following his October arrest in Los Angeles.
Neither U.S. prosecutors or defense lawyers for Cienfuegos could immediately be reached for comment.
The 72-year-old Cienfuegos was former President Enrique Pena Nieto’s top defense official from 2012 to 2018. His arrest shocked Mexico’s security establishment given his close times to a range of current senior officials.
Prior to the news, Cienfuegos was scheduled to appear in U.S. federal court in New York on Wednesday, where he was to face narcotics conspiracy and money laundering charges.
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