The US Department of Justice has decided not to prosecute Mexican former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos. According to justice minister Barr, Cienfuegos will now be “investigated and possibly tried” in Mexico, he said in a joint statement with the Attorney General of Mexico.
The general was arrested at Los Angeles airport over a month ago on suspicion of drug trafficking and money laundering. The American authorities had been looking for him for over a year. Cienfuegos was facing a minimum sentence of ten years.
In the statement, Barr did not explain why it was decided to suddenly drop the case against Cienfuegos in the United States. However, according to Reuters, the court documents state that” sensitive and important foreign policy considerations” play a role.
The Mexican government would not have been happy to arrest Cienfuegos. The arrest had not been discussed beforehand and the Mexicans saw it as an encroachment on their own sovereignty.
The joint statement by the minister of Justice, Mr Barr, and the Mexican attorney general does not make it clear whether Cienfuegos will actually be prosecuted in Mexico. The Mexican Secretary of State, Ebrard, says there’s going to be an open investigation into him.
Cienfuegos will probably be flying back to Mexico soon.
Under former President Peña Nieto, the 72-year-old Cienfuegos was in charge of the army for six years, between 2012 and 2018. At that time, according to the DEA, the US government agency fighting illegal drugs, he facilitated the so-called H-2 cartel in drug trafficking and used the army against rival cartels.
U.S. prosecutors labeled Cienfuegos as a flight risk just last month. They feared that once the former minister was at large through friends of the cartel, he would attempt to flee the United States, and then hide in Mexico.
At the time Cienfuegos was the defence chief, the Mexican army was accused of violating human rights. For example, in 2014, a shooting near a department store between the army and a criminal gang killed 22 suspects. Investigations later revealed that many suspects had already surrendered when they were shot.
Arrest warrants were also issued this year for military personnel who were alleged to have been involved in the disappearance and death of 43 students six years ago.