- Corruption charges against Salvador Cienfuegos have been dropped.
- He was arrested in the US in October.
- He is a close associate of Mexican President Lopez Obrador.
Former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos has been exonerated of all charges after prosecutors failed to get any evidence linking him to drug trafficking activities during his tenure. According to the formal statement provided by Mexico’s attorney general’s office, there is no proof of him making any moves to favor any criminal syndicate.
“(He) never had any encounters with members of the criminal organization investigated by U.S. authorities, nor did he maintain any communication with them, or carry out acts tending to protect or help said individuals,” the statement read.
Scrutiny of his wealth and taxation records also failed to show any discrepancies indicating that he was receiving illegal income.
Mr. Cienfuegos was initially arrested at the Los Angeles International Airport in October 2020 following investigations by US authorities. They reportedly had evidence of his collaboration with Mexican drug cartels, where he offered them protection and allowed them to bring drugs into the United States.
He was, however, repatriated back to Mexico after the Mexican government intervened and labeled his arrest a duplicity. The incarceration led to a tense standoff between the US and Mexican governments that almost led to a cooperation breakdown.
The then-Attorney General, William Barr, issued a dismissal directive to the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York allowing for Mr. Cienfuegos’ transfer back to Mexico. At the time, the Mexican government pledged to do an in-depth investigation into the allegations leveled against him.
His exoneration is a blow to the Mexican justice system and undermines the current security coordination efforts between the two nations. Before his conviction, American investigators reportedly gathered evidence spanning several years. His acquittal severely undermined these efforts.
Mr. Cienfuegos is a close associate of current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and his connection to the president is believed to have played a role in the latest ruling.
Mexican Lawmakers Move to Restrict US Agents in the Country
Following Salvador Cienfuegos’ arrest last year, Mexican lawmakers rushed to pass a motion curbing the jurisdiction of American security agencies in Mexico.
The rule mandated that all Mexican security officials, as well as law enforcement officers at all levels, including the local and federal levels, report all meetings and communications with foreign agencies within three days of the contact happening.
The law also stipulated that a member of the Mexican Foreign Ministry (SRE) must be present during such meetings. It further required that Mexican security agents obtain prior authorization from their federal superiors before engaging foreign agencies.
President AMLO has been more lenient than his predecessors when it comes to handling drug trafficking prosecutions.
In 2019, he ordered for the release of Ovidio Guzman, the son of incarcerated Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. This after he was captured by security forces in Culiacan.
An overwhelming response from Sinaloa Cartel gunmen prompted the president to order for his release. According to President AMLO, letting Guzman go helped save lives.