NEW YORK - A U.S. judge on Wednesday granted the government’s request to drop the drug trafficking and money laundering case against former Mexican Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos and return him to Mexico.
Acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme told a judge at a hearing in New York that the decision to drop the charges was made by Attorney General William Barr and was based on the “balancing of interests” between pursuing prosecution and of deference to the U.S.‘s relationship with Mexico.
Under an agreement signed by prosecutors and the general, Cienfuegos would depart the U.S. for Mexico “expeditiously in the custody of the U.S. Marshals,” Judge Carol Bagley Amon said. He would not be able to contest his removal or claim asylum in the U.S.
Barr said in a statement Tuesday that the Justice Department would drop its case so Cienfuegos “may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law.” Cienfuegos, who was charged in federal court in Brooklyn, was arrested in Los Angeles last month.
“I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the government’s position,” Amon said in granting the request to drop the case.
Cienfuegos, a general who led Mexico’s army department for six years under then-President Enrique Peña Nieto, was the highest-ranking former Mexican Cabinet official arrested since top security official Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in 2019.
Cienfuegos was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2019 and accused of helping a cartel smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States in exchange for bribes.
Prosecutors said intercepted messages showed that in exchange for bribes, Cienfuegos worked to ensure that the military did not take action against the cartel and that operations were initiated against rivals. He was also accused of introducing cartel leaders to other corrupt Mexican officials.
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Mexican Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said later at a news conference that Mexico had expressed its displeasure with not being advised of the investigation against Cienfuegos and requested, then received, the evidence against him.
Barr said in a joint statement with Mexican Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero that the U.S. Justice Department had made the decision to drop the U.S. case in recognition “of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality.”
The Justice Department said it has provided Mexico with evidence collected in the case.