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Former Mexican defense minister arrested in LA on drug charges

By
Darryl Coote & Don Jacobson
Then-Mexican defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos (L) appears with President Enrique Pena Nieto during a parade celebrating Mexico's Independence, in Mexico City, Mexico, on September 16, 2017. File Photo by Sashenka Gutierrez/EPA-EFE
Then-Mexican defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos (L) appears with President Enrique Pena Nieto during a parade celebrating Mexico's Independence, in Mexico City, Mexico, on September 16, 2017. File Photo by Sashenka Gutierrez/EPA-EFE

Oct. 16 (UPI) -- The government of Mexico says U.S. authorities have arrested a former Mexican defense minister on drug charges at an airport in Los Angeles.

Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted late Thursday that Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, who was Mexico's defense minister from 2012 to 2018 under former President Enrique Pena Nieto, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport.

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NBC News reported that Cienfuegos was arrested Thursday.

Ebrard said the Mexican consulate in Los Angeles would provide Cienfuegos "consular assistance." He was informed of the arrest by U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau.

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Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador vowed Friday to punish any other military officers found to be involved in the drug trade.

"We are in front of an unprecedented situation," he said. "We are not going to cover up for anyone."

As defense minister, Cienfuegos, 72, was widely recognized as a leading figure in Mexico's fight against drug cartels. The army under his leadership, however, was accused of carrying out extrajudicial slayings of cartel members and human rights abuses.

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Mexico's attorney general charged three Mexican soldiers with homicide in 2014 in connection with the shooting deaths of 22 suspected gang members in the "Tlatlaya Massacre."

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Several members of Pena Nieto's former cabinet and party have been linked to high-level corruption, including accusations of connections to organized crime. The former president himself was accused this year of taking bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

Mexico's former public security minister, Genero Garcia Luna, is awaiting trial in New York City on charges he accepted bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel.

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