Mexico vows ′cleanup′ after ex-defense chief arrested in US | News | DW | 16.10.2020
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Mexico vows 'cleanup' after ex-defense chief arrested in US

Mexico's president said his government will not "cover up for anybody" linked to detained former defense minister Salvador Cienguegos. He faces charges of drug trafficking and money laundering in the US.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday that he would not tolerate members of his government that may be linked to former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who was arrested in Los Angeles the day before. 

"It is very regrettable that a defense secretary is arrested, accused of links with drug trafficking," Lopez Obrador told a news conference. 

The Mexican president said he fully supports Cienfuegos' successor at the head of the army and his counterpart in the navy, noting that he had personally vetted them for honesty.  

"They are incorruptible," he added. But he sent a stern warning to the country's armed forces. "We won't cover up for anybody," Lopez Obrador said. 

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda (Marco Ugarte/AP Photo/picture-alliance)

Salvador Cienfuegos is accused of helping smuggle heroin, cocaine and other drugs in the US in exchange for bribes

He warned all members of the army that if they are found to be involved with Cienfuegos, "they will be suspended, retired and if the case merits it, handed over to the competent authorities."

"We're cleaning up, purifying public life," he pledged. 

He lambasted previous Mexican governments, saying they had presided over a debilitating increase in corruption, which left the nation gripped by often horrific levels of drug gang violence for years. 

"If we're not talking about a narco state, one can certainly talk about a narco government, and without doubt, about a government of mafiosi," Lopez Obrador said. 

Read more: How the coronavirus lockdown is hitting Mexico's drug cartels

Ties to Sinaloa Cartel 

Cienfuegos was charged with conspiring to produce and distribute heroin, methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana in the US between December 2015 and February 2017, while he served as defense minister for former president Enrique Pena Nieto (2012-2018), federal prosecutors in New York said. 

He also faces one charge of money laundering.

Watch video 12:36

Mortal danger for Mexico's reporters

Cienfuegos is the second former Mexican Cabinet member to be detained in the US. He is also linked to ex-security minister Genaro Garcia Luna, who was arrested in Texas in 2019, and is accused of taking huge bribes to allow the notorious Sinaloa cartel to ship drugs into the US. 

Read more: Mexico: When drug violence 'turns into terrorism'

Garcia Luna, who served under ex-President Felipe Calderon and was an architect of the war on drugs, has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges. 

Mexican investigative magazine Proceso, quoting unnamed sources at the US Department of Justice, reported that the long-standing investigation, dubbed "Operation Godfather," emerged when American authorities began to collect evidence against Sinaloa Cartel chief Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who is serving a life sentence in the US. 

More than 296,000 people have been murdered since the government militarized the fight against the drug cartels in 2006. 

Authorities say most of the killings are linked to gang violence as drug syndicates fight for control of the trafficking routes into the US. 

jcg/rs (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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