In a stunning move, the Justice Department said Tuesday it wanted to drop all charges against former Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda—and will allow him to return to Mexico where he will apparently be investigated. Attorney General William Bar, in a joint statement with the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, said the decision to drop drug trafficking and money laundering charges against Cienfuegos was “in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality.” Cienfuegos—who was also known as “El Padrino” or “The Godfather”—was arrested in Los Angeles in October and accused of aiding a drug cartel during his six-year tenure as the leader of the country's armed forces. The allegations caused a rift between Mexico and the U.S., who alleged Cienfuegos used his political office to protect a faction of the Beltran-Leyva cartel, directed operations with rival cartel gangs, and even found naval transport for drugs. The Brooklyn federal judge overseeing the case has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss charges.
Barr said that, after Cienfuegos was arrested, the Mexican government opened its own probe. The U.S. dropped its case so Cienfuegos “may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law,” Barr said. “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,” his statement said. “As the decision, today reflects, we are stronger when we work together and respect the sovereignty of our nations and their institutions.”
The Mexican Attorney General on Tuesday confirmed that the DOJ had provided evidence to local authorities and thanked the U.S. for their continued “close relationship.” He stressed Mexico will use the evidence information for their own probe. “[O]ur countries remain committed to cooperation in this matter,” he said in a tweet.