Mexico’s former prime cop on trial in New York on drug fees



Just some days into the trial of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, a witness dropped a bombshell allegation: A Sinaloa cartel affiliate testified that he had personally given Mexico’s prime drug cop briefcases full of money — thousands and thousands in bribes to let the cartel function with impunity.

Now, the person who had been thought of an architect of Mexico’s anti-drug battle and a key accomplice of U.S. legislation enforcement is on trial in the identical New York federal courtroom. Genaro García Luna — head of Mexico’s model of the FBI from 2001 to 2006 and public safety minister from 2006 to 2012 — is accused of conspiring with the criminals he was ostensibly aiming to take down. Jury choice started Tuesday.

García Luna, 54, who was arrested in December 2019, is the very best rating Mexican official to face trial within the U.S. on drug-trafficking fees — 4 counts of conspiracy to site visitors cocaine. It’s as if the pinnacle of the FBI or Drug Enforcement Company was accused of taking thousands and thousands in drug cash.

García Luna continuously met with prime U.S. safety officers whereas in workplace and was usually portrayed as the general public face of Mexico’s drug struggle. However prosecutors say they plan to point out that Mexico’s former prime cop offered the cartel with secure passage for its drug shipments and with delicate details about investigations into the cartel or rival gangs.

That is crucial nationwide safety and drug-trafficking trial of this century, much more so than El Chapo’s, mentioned Rodolfo Soriano Núñez, a sociologist and former professor who has lengthy studied the usage of navy pressure in Mexico.

“We knew Chapo was soiled,” Soriano mentioned, “however Chapo is nothing however a peasant from rural Sinaloa.” García Luna, against this, was a robust public official who held the belief of Mexico’s president from 2006 to 2012, Felipe Calderón, who mobilized the navy and federal police in what grew to become a bloody, greater than decade-long battle in opposition to drug cartels.

“It has the potential to unveil one of many key facets of the so-called struggle on medicine right here in Mexico,” Soriano mentioned, “which is that of the ties, the hyperlinks, the connection between political energy and the so-called drug gangs.”

Mexico's President Felipe Calderón speaks into a microphone as Genaro García Luna stand behind him.

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón speaks to reporters in 2010 as Genaro García Luna, then safety minister, stands behind him.

(Alexandre Meneghini / Related Press)

The stakes of the trial

The testimony and proof that might come out on the trial may have far-reaching penalties on each side of the border.

With a profession spanning three a long time, García Luna has intimate data of the drug struggle in Mexico and ties to the nation’s administrations going again to the early 2000s. And he had a very shut relationship with the DEA and FBI from the latter a part of President George W. Bush’s second administration via President Obama’s first, mentioned Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a professor at George Mason College.

Revelations from the trial might be a serious stain on previous administrations in Mexico. To critics of the drug struggle, a conviction would affirm the failure of the joint U.S.-Mexico effort, which acquired billions of {dollars} in U.S. support and was blamed for tens of hundreds of deaths — however did little to scale back cartel violence or smuggling.

“The collaboration has not resulted within the dismantling of drug-trafficking networks,” mentioned Correa-Cabrera. “Immediately, the USA consumes extra medicine than ever earlier than, and thru the border extra medicine than ever earlier than enter the USA.”

The trial may put further pressure on declining safety cooperation between the 2 international locations. Throughout the Calderón years, U.S. safety companies had primarily a free move to go wherever they needed in Mexico, Correa-Cabrera mentioned.

Las agencias entraban hasta la cocina,” mentioned Correa-Cabrera, utilizing a Mexican expression that interprets as “The companies made all of it the way in which into the kitchen.” She famous that Mexico’s present administration has shifted towards extra restricted cooperation with U.S. safety companies on Mexican territory.

And with the 2024 U.S. presidential election in sight, consultants say the USA doesn’t maintain a whole lot of leverage to stress Mexican authorities to alter that, contemplating how a lot Washington depends on Mexico Metropolis to manage U.S.-bound migration via Mexico.

Who’s García Luna?

As minister of public safety from 2006 to 2012, García Luna is broadly thought to be the architect of Calderón’s controversial struggle on the drug cartels.

García Luna began his profession on the Nationwide Intelligence Middle, Mexico’s CIA equal, in 1989 and joined a particular counterterrorism unit. After almost a decade, he joined the federal police, and in 2001 then-President Vicente Fox named him head of the brand new Federal Investigation Company.

On the company, referred to as the AFI, which has since been dissolved, García Luna led what was hailed as a metamorphosis of Mexico’s police forces.

In a collection of interviews that Correa-Cabrera had with García Luna in 2017 and 2018, he mentioned that the federal judicial police had ties to drug trafficking and that he had been given the duty to scrub it up.

“AFI was the promise of a greater police, one not linked to drug trafficking,” she mentioned.

The Mexican authorities on the time likened the brand new company to the FBI. When Calderón took the presidency in 2006, he elevated García Luna to his Cupboard.

A man speaks at a podium in front of an image of a helicopter.

Genaro García Luna speaks throughout a 2011 ceremony in Mexico Metropolis.

(Alexandre Meneghini / Related Press)

Rumors and chilly trails

Quickly after Fox took workplace in 2000, the federal government captured a number of Sinaloa cartel members. However after that preliminary dash, issues quieted down. Opposition politicians and safety consultants began to query why the federal government’s hunt for the elusive cartel chief El Chapo appeared to have gone chilly.

Calderón’s declared struggle on the drug cartels shattered previous alliances and drove drug lords to battle over the territory. There have been high-profile arrests, however they have been largely from rival organizations such because the Zetas or the Beltrán Leyva group. Rumors of presidency favoritism towards the Sinaloa cartel grew louder.

Throughout the warmth of the drug wars in 2008, Mexicans in a number of states woke as much as banners, or narcomantas, hanging from bridges or unfold throughout the doorway to a cathedral that accused García Luna of defending drug sellers.

One of the vital controversial claims appeared in a letter printed in November 2012 within the pages of the well-regarded nationwide newspaper Reforma. Writing from jail, Édgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villareal, a drug kingpin from the Beltrán Leyva cartel, accused García Luna and his closest associates of receiving narco cash since 2002.

“I can attest that he has acquired cash from me, from drug-trafficking teams and arranged crime,” mentioned Valdez, earlier than including, “I could also be responsible of loads, however they, the officers, are a part of the prison construction of this nation.”

Officers mentioned the accusations have been an try by Valdez to realize privileges whereas in jail; García Luna remained untouched. (Valdez was sentenced in 2018 by a U.S. choose to 49 years in jail.)

García Luna’s life in Miami

When Calderón’s time period resulted in 2012, García Luna fell out of the general public eye. Married with two kids, he was granted everlasting residency in the USA and was quickly a routine visitor at conferences hosted by American universities.

He began a non-public safety consulting and threat administration agency with workplaces in Miami and Mexico Metropolis. His clientele included overseas governments and corporations, and his main shopper was the Mexican authorities, his protection mentioned in pretrial filings.

In 2018, he utilized to turn into a naturalized U.S. citizen. Earlier than his arrest in Miami, he was dwelling in a waterside mansion “with a dock and boat for his use,” all given to him by his enterprise companions as a result of “he had no wealth to talk of on the time,” García Luna’s protection wrote in a courtroom submitting.

“As a result of his enterprise companions needed to make sure Mr. García Luna’s continued involvement with their enterprise, they offered him a spot to dwell in Miami,” the protection wrote.

On to Brooklyn

It appears unlikely that García Luna’s trial — which is predicted to final two months — shall be as theatrical as that of Guzmán, who was well-known worldwide as an escape artist who had lengthy eluded arrest.

However prosecutors have telegraphed in courtroom filings that they count on to current quite a few witnesses — together with former high-ranking members of the Sinaloa cartel — to testify in regards to the bribes García Luna is accused of accepting.

The choose granted prosecutors’ requests for an nameless and partially sequestered jury, the identical protections that have been used throughout Guzmán’s trial.

The paperwork within the case are voluminous. García Luna’s public defender, assigned by the courtroom after the defendant’s belongings have been seized, complained in preliminary courtroom appearances about having to undergo “thousands and thousands of pages” of proof with little help.

If discovered responsible, García Luna may face a minimal of about 20 years and a most of life in jail.

One other arrest, at LAX

Mexico’s present president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has referred to as the case in opposition to García Luna emblematic of the institutional corruption of his predecessors, particularly Calderón, a longtime political adversary.

Nonetheless, López Obrador was livid when, the 12 months after García Luna’s arrest in Dallas, U.S. authorities detained a former Mexican protection secretary, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, moments after he landed together with his household at Los Angeles Worldwide Airport.

Like García Luna, Cienfuegos was charged with collaborating with Mexican drug cartels whereas in workplace.

López Obrador, dealing with fierce backlash from the highly effective navy, denounced the costs in opposition to Cienfuegos and demanded that Washington launch the retired normal. The Trump administration finally dropped the costs and returned Cienfuegos to Mexico, the place he went free.

In Mexico, López Obrador — who as soon as assailed the deployment of the navy in opposition to drug cartels — has been harshly criticized for significantly increasing the navy’s position in inside safety.

“He’s repeating the identical errors” as Calderón, Soriano mentioned.

Corona is a particular correspondent. Instances Mexico Metropolis bureau chief Patrick J. McDonnell contributed to this report.

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