MEXICO CITY – Mexico said Thursday it will no longer be allowed to bring officials charged with corruption to justice in the United States. This could end a decade-long tradition in which most of the best-known drug trafficking and corruption cases in Mexico were heard north of the border.
However, the scope of the new policy was unclear and officials suggested that some extraditions could continue.
There was no immediate comment from US officials on Mexico’s bombing, but it came a day after the US dropped a high-profile drug trafficking and money laundering case against a former Mexican defense secretary.
The announcement suggests that the aftermath of the arrest of former General Salvador Cienfuegos – who infuriated Mexico when the Justice Department announced this last month – is far wider than previously known.
“Anyone who is guilty under our laws will be brought to justice, judged and possibly convicted in Mexico and not in other countries, and that is the basis that was promoted by this agreement,” said Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard. “That was discussed, what was agreed and what was upheld with the US authorities.”
US officials have given no indication that the deal goes beyond the Cienfuegos case, and the White House on Thursday did not respond to questions on the matter or to Ebard’s comments.
Ebrard’s testimony was unclear whether Mexico would continue to extradite accused drug traffickers for prosecution in US courts, as it has often done in the past, or whether he was only referring to officials accused of collaborating with drug gangs.
On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice moved to dismiss drug trafficking and money laundering charges against Cienfuegos and his return to Mexico in order to maintain cross-border cooperation. That decision came after it was reported that Mexico threatened to expel the regional director and agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador denied this Thursday with the words: “We have not threatened anyone. We have just expressed our disagreement. “
“We didn’t threaten to deport the agents. We said we want to be informed and that the cooperation agreements must be respected, ”said López Obrador, adding:“ I think it is an injustice for innocent people to be brought to justice. “
“You cannot allow foreign authorities to bring Mexicans to justice if there is no evidence,” said López Obrador, who presented this as a question of national sovereignty. “Just because they are the legal institutions of other countries, they are the owners of justice and righteousness.”
Cienfuegos was returned to Mexico on Wednesday and immediately released.
Ebrard swore that the investigation of Cienfuegos was “worthy of Mexico’s prestige and dignity”. However, the entire process of notifying Cienfuegos of the investigation and getting him back into the country took only about half an hour, far less time than the average traveler for customs and immigration.
Ebrard seemed aware of the damage to Mexico’s reputation if Mexican prosecutors, as many expect, fail to bring their own charges against Cienfuegos.
“It would be very costly for Mexico to have chosen to have this interview with the United States, to drop the charges against a former cabinet secretary for the first time in history … to return to Mexico and then do nothing later “Said Ebrard. “That would be almost suicidal.”
The full extent of Mexico’s pressure was not clear, and U.S. officials weren’t sure what prompted them to drop the charges on what they hailed as a major breakthrough just last month when federal agents drove the retired general in Los Angeles snapped.
Two officials, one Mexican and one American, said Mexico’s tactic was to threaten the regional director and agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration with expulsion unless the US dropped the case. But they said that was only part of the negotiation. You wouldn’t go into that.
The officers asked not to be named because they did not have the authority to speak publicly about the case.
A judge in New York City on Wednesday approved the dismissal of the charges and made a lightning-quick turnaround on a case that sparked loud protests from senior Mexican officials and threatened to damage the delicate relationship that enables investigators in both countries to be drug queens together to pursue.
72-year-old Cienfuegos was secretly indicted by a federal grand jury in New York in 2019. He was accused of conspiring with the H-2 cartel in Mexico to smuggle thousands of pounds of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana while serving as Secretary of Defense from 2012 to 2018.
Prosecutors said intercepted messages showed Cienfuegos accepted bribes to ensure the military did not crack down on the cartel and that operations were being launched against its rivals. He was also accused of introducing cartel leaders to other corrupt Mexican officials.
Mexican officials complained that the US did not exchange evidence against Cienfuegos and that his arrest came as a surprise. It also raised the alarm in the Mexican military, which has played a pivotal role in drug cartel operations.
Mexico presented the release of Cienfuegos as a victory for the country’s sovereignty and its demand to be treated as an equal partner by the United States. This is a notable position as most believe that the Mexican judicial system – and corrupt officials – are the weak links in the country’s fight against drug trafficking.