US prosecutors are to drop drug charges against former Mexican secretary of national defense Salvador Cienfuegos and turn over the investigation to Mexico, saying “sensitive” foreign policy considerations outweighed the interest in pressing the case.
The surprise decision to dismiss the charges in the politically explosive case was announced in a joint statement on Tuesday from the US Department of Justice and Mexican Attorney General’s office.
“The United States has determined that sensitive and important foreign policy considerations outweigh the government’s interest in pursuing the prosecution of the defendant,” prosecutors from the US Eastern District of New York said in a court document.
US authorities said the 72-year-old ex-general, accused of using his power to protect a faction of the Beltran-Leyva drugs cartel in Mexico while ordering operations against its rivals, had agreed to voluntarily return to Mexico if the US case against him was thrown out.
Cienfuegos, who served as head of the military and was former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto’s top defense official from 2012 to 2018, pleaded not guilty earlier this month to the drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy charges following his last month’s arrest at Los Angeles International Airport.
After a hearing yesterday in a Brooklyn federal court, where the judge was expected to sign off on the prosecutors’ request, Cienfuegos would likely be transported back to Mexico in the custody of a US Marshal, the court documents show.
“Tomorrow justice will be done,” Cienfuegos’ US-based attorney Edward Sapone said in a brief statement.
The arrest of Cienfuegos, who for years worked closely with US counterparts on cross-border criminal matters and was a leading figure in Mexico’s drug war, put a severe strain on security ties between the two countries.
The Mexican government was not forewarned of the investigation or arrest, which angered Mexican sensitivities at the highest level. His arrest shocked Mexico’s security establishment, given his close ties to a range of current senior officials.
In retaliation, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador publicly threatened to review cooperation agreements that establish how US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents operate in the country.
The threats set off a flurry of frantic calls between US Attorney General William Barr, DEA Acting Administrator Timothy Shea and Mexican officials seeking to calm tensions.
In remarks to reporters shortly after the announcement, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard described the dropping of the case as unprecedented, and a sign of respect for Mexico’s sovereignty and military.
The decision meant that security cooperation between the two nations could proceed, Ebrard said.
The DEA-led case against Cienfuegos appears to have been a tightly guarded secret even among US agencies — with a Pentagon think tank honoring him for his “extraordinary” contributions to the bilateral military relationship while the investigation was ongoing in 2018.
“If I had to guess, it is likely that the Pentagon was up in arms with the DEA going solo,” former Mexican ambassador to the US Arturo Sarukhan said.
The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has fully vaccinated 90 percent of its eligible adult population within just seven days, the Bhutanese Ministry of Health said on Tuesday. The tiny country, wedged between India and China and home to nearly 800,000 people, began giving out second doses on Tuesday last week in a mass drive that has been hailed by the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) as “arguably the fastest vaccination campaign to be executed during a pandemic.” Bhutan grabbed headlines in April when its government said it had inoculated about the same percentage of eligible adults with the first dose
MISINFORMATION: The digital giant said there were ‘numerous’ offending videos that were removed from the channel, which has 1.85 million subscribers Sky News Australia has been banned from uploading content to YouTube for seven days after contravening its medical misinformation policies by posting numerous videos that denied the existence of COVID-19 or encouraged people to use hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin. The ban was imposed by the digital giant on Thursday afternoon, the day after the UK’s Daily Telegraph ended Alan Jones’ regular column amid controversy about his COVID-19 commentary, which included calling the New South Wales Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant a village idiot on his Sky News program. YouTube has not disclosed which Sky News program the videos were from, but said there
African nations should build capacity to produce vaccines on the continent and work with pharmaceutical companies to ensure that the raw materials needed to produce the inoculations are available, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said. While a waiver on the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights that is being discussed at the WTO is seen as a way to improve the supply of COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s least inoculated continent, Okonjo-Iweala said that only a handful of African countries have the capacity to produce the life-saving drugs. “There [are] a handful of countries — maybe Tunisia, Morocco to some extent,
CLAMPDOWN: Sydney’s lockdown has been extended three times, and more than 1,300 police were patrolling the city on Saturday to deter any would-be demonstrators Sydney reported a record-matching number of new local cases of COVID-19, while infections also rose in the state of Queensland, a day after its most-populous region went into lockdown. There were 239 cases in Sydney in the 24 hours to 8pm on Saturday, equal to the tally set three days earlier and the most since the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 began sweeping through the nation’s largest city in June. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said there were some signs that the virus is mostly being contained to parts of Sydney’s southwest, where the strictest curbs are in place. While most residents have