A former Mexican defense minister was arrested in Los Angeles, California, on Thursday for drug-related corruption in Mexico, according to the Mexican government.
Former Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda faces drug and money-laundering charges, a federal law enforcement official in New York said, the New York Times reported.
Zepeda is the first high-ranking military official to be in U.S. custody for these charges, according to the Times.
“There has never been a minister of defense in Mexico arrested,” former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda said, according to the Times. “The minister of defense in Mexico is a guy that not only runs the army and is a military man, but he reports directly to the president. There is no one above him except the president.”
Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister confirmed that Zepeda was taken into U.S. custody Thursday night.
He sido informado por el Embajador Christopher Landau de los Estados Unidos que el ex Secretario de la Defensa Nacional, Gral. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, ha sido detenido en el Aeropuerto de Los Angeles, California.
— Marcelo Ebrard C. (@m_ebrard) October 16, 2020
Information on Zepeda’s charges were not immediately available, the Times reported. The Drug Enforcement Administration ordered Zepeda’s arrest. (RELATED: Mexico Says It Captured El Chapo’s Son, And Then Immediately Let Him Go)
“This is a huge deal,” CIDE University professor Alejandro Madrazo said to the Times. “The military has become way more corrupt and way more abusive since the war on drugs was declared, and for the first time they may not be untouchable — but not by the Mexican government, by the American government.”
Zepeda served as Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018, under former President Enrique Peña Nieto who left office in 2018, according to the Times.
About 10 months before Zepeda’s arrest, Genaro García Luna, who oversaw Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency, was indicted in New York on charges of taking bribes to protect the Sinaloa drug cartel while in office, the Times reported. Luna then served as Mexico’s secretary of public security where he helped the president develop a strategy to skirmish Mexican cartels.
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