Mexico's former defense secretary arrested in Los Angeles

Mexico's former defense secretary arrested in Los Angeles”

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 into corruption involving drug traffickers.

The latest arrest could lead US authorities to pursue even more prominent targets, said Mike Vigil, former head of global operations for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

DEA spokeswoman in Los Angeles, Nicole Nishida, said she had no further details about the nature of the warrant, the circumstances of the arrest, whether he was coming or going at the Los Angeles airport, or anything about family or others who may have been traveling with him.

Cienfuegos, who was defense chief from 2012 until 2018, was reportedly on a trip with his family when he was detained at Los Angeles airport.

Cienfuegos is due to appear in a Los Angeles federal court later on Friday before being transferred to NY, where prosecutors expect him to be arraigned in the coming weeks. One of the people said the warrant was for drug trafficking and money laundering charges.

The U.S. DEA declined to comment Thursday night.

The prosecution said the evidence against the retired general, nicknamed "The Godfather", included thousands of Blackberry messages between Cienfuegos and cartel members that were intercepted by the authorities.

He is the second former Mexican minister who is detained in the United States.

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Gen Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, 72, acted on behalf of the H-2 cartel while he was defence secretary from 2012 to 2018 under former president Enrique Pena Nieto, authorities said.

Cienfuegos' detention comes on the heels of the arrest of ex-President Felipe Calderon's security minister, Genaro Garcia Luna.

There was no immediate confirmation from the USA authorities.

Whatever the charges, it will be a tough blow for Mexico, where the army and navy are some of the few remaining respected public institutions.

Among the thousands of intercepted communications, according to US prosecutors, were many direct messages between Cienfuegos and a senior leader of the H-2 Cartel, including ones in which the minister discussed his historical assistance to another drug trafficking organization.

Current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has vowed to go after corruption and lawbreaking under past administrations, but he has relied more heavily on the army - and given it more tasks, ranging from building infrastructure projects to distributing medical supplies - than any other president in recent history.

Under Cienfuegos, the Mexican army was accused of frequent human rights abuses, but that was true of both his predecessors and his successor in the post.

Mexico's attorney general charged three Mexican soldiers with homicide in 2014 in connection with the shooting deaths of 22 suspected gang members in the "Tlatlaya Massacre".

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