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Mexico slams US charges against ex-defense chief, hints political aims

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has accused the US of “fabricating” drug trafficking charges against the country’s former defense minister, questioning why the Americans had arrested him so close to the US presidential elections.Challenging the motives behind the arrest of the ex-defense chief nearly two weeks prior to the November 3 elections in the US, Lopez Obrador asked during a Friday press briefing, “What was the message? Who from? What were they trying to do, weaken the Mexican government, weaken Mexico’s armed forces, spark a conflict with the current government?”The harsh criticism of US authorities and justice system came a day after Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office declared that it was dropping the drug trafficking case against retired Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos.The Mexican president also slammed a lack of professionalism in the US investigation and strongly implied that there could have been political motivations behind the arrest of Cienfuegos by American authorities at Los Angeles International Airport last October, pointing out that the probe had been ongoing for years, but the arrest came just shortly before the US presidential polls.He also noted that Mexican prosecutors had dropped the case because the evidence shared by the United States had no value to prove he committed any crime.”Why did they do the investigation like that?” López Obrador underlined. “Without support, without proof?”He went on to say his government would cover up for no one, saying, “We’re not going to fabricate crimes. We’re not going make up anything. We have to act based on the facts, the evidence, the realities.”The US government dropped its charges against Cienfuegos after the presidential election in November in a back-door diplomatic concession to the vital bilateral relationship between the two neighbors and sent him back to Mexico, where he was immediately released.In a statement released Thursday night, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office went beyond just announcing that it was closing the criminal case by clearing the former defense chief entirely.”The conclusion was reached that General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda never had any meeting with the criminal organization investigated by American authorities, and that he also never had any communication with them, nor did he carry out acts to protect or help those individuals,” said the official statement.It also said that Cienfuegos had not been found to have any illicit or abnormal income, nor was any evidence found “that he had issued any order to favor the criminal group in question.”The statement also insisted that the seven-year investigation of the general by the US authorities was completely disproved by Cienfuegos within five days of reviewing the US evidence against him.The US government, however, swiftly rejected the move by Mexican officials, insisting that it reserved the right to prosecute Cienfuegos in the future.”The United States reserves the right to recommence its prosecution of Cienfuegos if the Government of Mexico fails to do so,” said the acting deputy director of public affairs at the US Justice Department, Nicole Navas Oxman.US prosecutors alleged that intercepted messages showed that Cienfuegos accepted bribes in exchange for ensuring the military did not take action against the cartel and that operations were initiated against its rivals. He was also accused of introducing cartel bosses to other corrupt Mexican officials.Under the pressure of Mexico’s implicit threats to restrict or expel the sizable number of American agents in the Latin American country, US prosecutors dropped their case so Cienfuegos could be returned to Mexico and investigated under Mexican law.Acting US Attorney Seth DuCharme told a judge at the time, “The United States determined that the broader interest in maintaining that relationship in a cooperative way outweighed the department’s interest and the public’s interest in pursuing this particular case.”Even though the US backed off on prosecuting Cienfuegos, Mexico’s parliament passed a law a few weeks later which will restrict US agents across Mexico and remove their diplomatic immunity.

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