Mexico’s former Defence Minister Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested Thursday in the United States, reportedly at the request of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, in connection with a corruption investigation.
Cienfuegos, who was defence chief from 2012 to 2018, was said to have been on a trip with his family when he was detained at Los Angeles airport.
“The consul in Los Angeles will inform me of the charges in the next few hours. We will offer the consular assistance to which he is entitled,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter.
The Mexican investigative magazine Proceso, quoting unnamed sources at the US Department of Justice, reported that the arrest was the result of a long-standing investigation named “Operation Godfather” into corruption involving drug traffickers.
It said other senior military officials had also come under investigation when US authorities began to collect evidence against drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who is serving a life sentence in the US.
US media including the Wall Street Journal reported that Cienfuegos was arrested at the request of the DEA.
Contacted by AFP, a DEA spokesman declined to comment.
Cienfuegos, 72, headed the defence ministry under former president Enrique Pena Nieto.
According to Mexican media reports, he was detained by US authorities when he arrived on a trip with his family.
Mexican prosecutors did not immediately respond to requests for information about why Cienfuegos was arrested.
Pena Nieto also faces allegations of corruption during his 2012-2018 term in office.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is pushing for a referendum on whether to prosecute Pena Nieto and four other predecessors over accusations including graft.
Mexico’s government militarized the fight against the drug cartels in 2006, since when more than 296,000 people have been murdered, according to the authorities, who say most of the killings are linked to gang violence.
While defence minister, Cienfuegos complained about his troops having to take part in the country’s war on drug trafficking, saying the military was not suited for the job.
“We didn’t ask to be here. We don’t like it. We didn’t study how to chase criminals,” he said.
“Our function is something else and it’s been made into something unnatural. We are doing things that don’t correspond to our training because there’s no one else to do them.”
Cienfuegos is the second former Mexican minister who is detained in the United States.
Ex-public security minister Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in December 2019 on charges of taking huge bribes to allow El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel to ship drugs into the US.
Garcia Luna, an architect of Mexico’s war on drug trafficking, pleaded not guilty.