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Mexico president backs dropping ex-defense minister drug charges

Kitco News

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday his government supported a decision by the attorney general not to charge ex-Defense Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos, in a case that has roiled U.S.-Mexico diplomatic relations.

Cienfuegos, a member of former President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government, was arrested in October at Los Angeles international airport on charges he worked with a powerful drug cartel. U.S. prosecutors later dropped the case and returned him to Mexico, citing diplomatic sensitivities.

The Mexican attorney general office’s concluded Thursday that Cienfuegos had no contact with members of the criminal organization. Lopez Obrador backed the move.

“It’s a decision the attorney general’s office makes, but one that the government I represent supports,” said Lopez Obrador in his regular morning news conference.

The fallout from the case has soured relations with Washington ahead of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing in next week. Lopez Obrador on Friday said the U.S. investigation had not been conducted with “professionalism.”

Mexico said the failure to alert officials before the arrest marked “a before and after” in bilateral ties. In December it created new rules governing how foreign agents, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, operate in the country.

A watered down, final version of those rules was published hours before the decision to drop the Mexican case against the former general, in a sign that security cooperation between the neighboring countries will continue.

Cienfuegos’ arrest in the United States followed a multi-year investigation that used wire taps to track a military figure who traffickers called “El Padrino,” or The Godfather.

Investigators concluded “El Padrino” was Cienfuegos and had helped drug traffickers move tonnes of narcotics.

“The attorney general’s office acted because it considered that the evidence presented by the United States government, in this case by the agency known by its acronym as the DEA, has no evidentiary value,” Lopez Obrador said.

The president added that if evidence surfaces against others mentioned in the U.S. investigation of Cienfuegos, Mexico could pursue cases against them.

Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener and Raul Cortes; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Alistair Bell

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