MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s former defence minister Salvador Cienfuegos has been arrested in the United States on suspicion of links with drug trafficking, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday.

Cienfuegos, who was defence chief from 2012 to 2018, is reported to have been on a trip with his family when he was detained at Los Angeles airport on Thursday.

“It’s a very regrettable fact that a former defence minister is arrested, accused of links with drug trafficking,” Lopez Obrador told reporters.

“Of course, all this must be proven,” he said, adding that the US authorities were expected to announce the reasons for the arrest later on Friday.

“We’re facing an unprecedented situation” Lopez Obrador said, noting that two former Mexican ministers are now detained in the US on allegations of links to drug cartels.

The arrests were a clear indication that Mexico was previously run by “a narco-government and without doubt a mafia government,” added the leftist leader, who came to power in 2018 vowing to crack down on corruption.

Ex-public security minister Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in December 2019 on charges of taking huge bribes to allow the notorious Sinaloa cartel to ship drugs into the US. He pleaded not guilty.

According to US media, Cienfuegos was detained at the request of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in connection with a corruption investigation.

Cienfuegos is not under investigation in Mexico, Lopez Obrador said.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced the shock arrest on Twitter late Thursday.

“The consul in Los Angeles will inform me of the charges in the next few hours. We will offer the consular assistance to which he is entitled,” Ebrard said.

The Mexican investigative magazine Proceso, quoting unnamed sources at the US Department of Justice, reported that the arrest was the result of a long-standing investigation named “Operation Godfather” into corruption involving drug traffickers.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2020