U.S. drops criminal charges against Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. Salvador is a free man. What is next?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2020. New York City – Federal Judge in Brooklyn, New York City, Carol Bagley Amon granted the request of the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Tuesday, November 17, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice requested to dismiss the charges against Mexican ex-minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, also known as The Godfather (El Padrino). Salvador was accused of helping a drug cartel in Mexico.

In a hearing today Wednesday, November 18, Judge Carol Bagley Amon said, “Although these are very serious charges against a very significant figure, and the old adage ‘a bird in the hand’ comes to mind, I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the government’s decision. There is no suggestion that this application is being made in bad faith.”

Seth DuCharme, the Acting U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, said his office “stands behind its case” against Cienfuegos, but that its interest in the prosecution was outweighed by the “broader interest” in maintaining cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement authorities.

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda appeared in court today. He agreed with the request to drop charges against him.

According to his lawyer Edward Sapone, Cienfuegos has signed a removal agreement that would allow his return to Mexico.

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda will return to Mexico within days as a free man.

Mexican attorney general’s office is studying the U.S. evidence and would decide next steps.

In the same court in Brooklyn, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera (“El Chapo”) went to trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in the summer of 2019.

In the same court in Brooklyn, Mexico’s former security minister Genaro García Luna, in October 2020, pleaded not guilty to charges linking him to the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Genaro Garcia Luna is accuse of taking bribes to protect the Sinaloa drug cartel once run by drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

On Tuesday, November 17, 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice issued the following press release.

Joint Statement by Attorney General of the United States William P. Barr and Fiscalía General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero.

“Attorney General of the United States William P. Barr and Fiscalía General of Mexico Alejandro Gertz Manero issued today the following statement:

“On Oct. 15, 2020, former Mexican Secretary of National Defense General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was arrested in Los Angeles, California, on U.S. charges of conspiracy to manufacture, import, and distribute narcotics into the United States and money laundering.

“The Mexican Fiscalía General de la República, upon learning of the arrest and U.S. charges against General Cienfuegos, opened its own investigation.

“In recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality, the U.S. Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of the U.S. criminal charges against former Secretary Cienfuegos, so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law.

“At the request of the Fiscalía General de la República, the U.S. Department of Justice, under the Treaty that governs the sharing of evidence, has provided Mexico evidence in this case and commits to continued cooperation, within that framework, to support the investigation by Mexican authorities.

“Our two countries remain committed to cooperation on this matter, as well as all our bilateral law enforcement cooperation. As the decision today reflects, we are stronger when we work together and respect the sovereignty of our nations and their institutions. This close partnership increases the security of the citizens of both our countries.””

What is next?

Today, mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Marcelo Ebrard C., Secretary of Foreign Relations of Mexico did not say whether Cienfuegos, who remains in U.S. custody, would face charges in Mexico.

Marcelo Ebrard said in today’s press conference that Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda will be returned to Mexico in the custody of US marshals but that, upon his arrival, he will be treated as a normal citizen as there is no warrant for his arrest in Mexico.

It will be up to Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office to determine whether Zepeda will be arrested and charged under Mexican law.

Who is Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda?

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was defense secretary under former President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Salvador ran the Mexican army and also reported directly to president Peña Nieto on all matters pertaining to the country’s security.

U. S. prosecutors said Zepeda had links to the “extremely violent” H-2 drug cartel.

Cienfuegos was accused of permitting “the H-2 Cartel – a cartel that routinely engaged in wholesale torture and murder – to operate with impunity in Mexico”.

U. S. investigators alleged that not only had Salvador shielded members of the H-2 cartel but that he had also used the Mexican military to launch operations against H-2’s rivals.

Salvador was arrested at Los Angeles airport in October 15, 2020.

In a court in Los Angeles, California, Cienfuegos pleaded not guilty to the charges in October after he was arrested at the airport.

Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda was for approximately two weeks in federal custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, California, until his transfer on Monday, November 2, 2020, to the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, New York City, where his criminal case originated.

What Mexicans think about Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda returning to Mexico?

“Mr. President (Andrés Manuel López Obrador), we trust you without a doubt, but not in the Judges. We hope that for the first time in Mexico the high officials can be tried, that there is no impunity.”_Ageid

“Gertz shut our mouths. We trust AMLO. There is doubt in the administration of justice in Mexico.”_Lizbeth

“Mr. President AMLO, I thank you very much for what you do for our Mexican country. But I’m not quite sure about the decisions Gertz Manero makes.”_Esther

“I think they will let him go free. I don’t want this (AMLO) government to fail us.”_Lourdes

“All my support to my president AMLO.”_Alejandro

“I believe in you Mr. President (Andrés Manuel López Obrador), however, not in mexican authorities.”_David

“No to impunity of the (mexican) military. They already owe a lot, like the Ayotzinapa case.”_Victor

“I feel disappointed in such arguments. The gringos do not open the door just like that, because they had nothing to do… surely he will be exonerated and with one more star… I am sorry but today I do not share your opinion, Mr. President (Andrés Manuel López Obrador).”_Xochilth

18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey welcomes Mexico's Secretary of National Defense General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda and Secretary of the Navy Admiral Soberón Sanz for United States - Mexico Defense Chiefs Strategy Dialogue at the National Defense University on Fort McNair, Washington D.C., 15 July, 2013. DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp/commons.wikimedia.org
18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey welcomes Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda and Secretary of the Navy Admiral Soberón Sanz for United States – Mexico Defense Chiefs Strategy Dialogue at the National Defense University on Fort McNair, Washington D.C., 15 July, 2013. DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Sean K. Harp/commons.wikimedia.org

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