Former Mexican Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on a Drug Enforcement Administration warrant, three U.S. law enforcement officials told NBC News late Thursday.
The arrest was confirmed by Mexico’s Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard via Twitter, who said he was informed of the detention by the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau.
“The Consul in Los Angeles will be informing me of the charges in the next few hours,” wrote Ebrard. “I will keep you posted.”
Charges along with the exact details and circumstances of the arrest have yet to be announced. DEA officials did not elaborate on which DEA office was handling Cienfuegos’ case.
General Cienfuegos, 72, served as defense minister from 2012 to 2018 under former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and was a powerful figure in the country’s drug war, in which the military battled cartels across the country.
Peña Nieto was in office for six years through December 2018. Several members of his cabinet and party have been implicated in high-level corruption cases, sometimes involving allegations of links to organized crime.
Under Cienfuegos, the army was accused of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses, including the 2014 Tlatlaya massacre, where 22 drug gang members were executed.
The armed forces have taken an increasingly prominent role in fighting crime in Mexico, and have been viewed by some as less prone to corruption than police forces.
The detention of Cienfuegos comes on the heels of the arrest of ex-President Felipe Calderon’s security minister, Genaro Garcia Luna in Texas in 2019.
Luna is on trial in New York on suspicion of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel, which he was tasked with combating.
Elements of the army in the northern state of Sinaloa have long been rumored to have links to the cartel formerly headed by crime kingpin Guzman, who controlled much of the illegal drug trade across the Western Hemisphere for almost three decades.
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