Mexico’s former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos used his power in office to protect a faction of the Beltran-Leyva cartel, directing operations against rival gangs and even finding maritime transport to ship drugs, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday.
Cienfuegos, arrested at Los Angeles airport on Thursday, took bribes in return for protection that included warning cartel members about U.S. investigations, according to prosecutors in New York who have charged the 72-year-old with four counts of drug trafficking and money laundering.
“In exchange for bribe payments, he permitted the H-2 Cartel – a cartel that routinely engaged in wholesale violence, including torture and murder – to operate with impunity in Mexico,” prosecutors said in a court filing.
The H-2 Cartel is a name for a remnant of the Beltran-Leyva gang.
Cienfuegos served from 2012 to 2018 in the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, several of whose aides and party members are now accused of high level corruption. Pena Nieto has denied allegations he took a cartel bribe.