Exclusive: Mexico agrees with U.S. Attorney General Barr to arrest drug capo as part of blanket deal

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: AG Bill Barr attends roundtable on human trafficking in Atlanta

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By Diego Oré, Frank Jack Daniel and Mark Hosenball

MEXICO CITY / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Mexico has pledged to arrest a high-level cartel leader in a deal with U.S. Attorney General William Barr to drop drug trafficking charges against a former Mexican minister defense, a high-level Mexican source told Reuters.

The United States dropped the lawsuit against retired General Salvador Cienfuegos this week citing “sensitive and important” foreign policy considerations that outweighed the interest in pursuing the charges.

In return, Mexico has privately told Barr that it will work with the United States to arrest a high-level cartel leader involved in trafficking large amounts of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, the source said.

Reuters was unable to determine which cartel leader Mexico and U.S. officials would target and the source declined to give names, fearing that the investigation could be jeopardized.

It has not been previously reported that Barr extracted a pledge to focus on a cartel leader in return for Cienfuegos’ release.

“Mexico is committed to working with the United States in capturing a primary target,” said the source, who asked not to be identified in order to speak freely.

Daniel Millan, spokesperson for Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, said: “what we have agreed is to maintain a united front against crime and cooperation that respects the sovereignty of each country”.

He said he had no information regarding a deal on a high-level capture.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment and referred Reuters to earlier statements that the case was dismissed as a sign of confidence in Mexican justice and for diplomatic reasons.

The United States returned Cienfuegos to Mexico on Wednesday, after a U.S. federal judge dropped the charges against him at Barr’s request. Under the deal, it will now be investigated in Mexico.

The decision to release Mexico’s highest-ranking defense official ever accused in the United States of collusion with a cartel angered former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, who said the United States had to strong arguments against Cienfuegos.

Cienfuegos’ arrest at Los Angeles International Airport in October was the result of a multi-year investigation that used wiretaps to track a military figure, dubbed “El Padrino” by traffickers.

Investigators concluded that “El Padrino” or the godfather, was Cienfuegos and that he helped the cartel move tons of narcotics.

The Mexican government, angry at not having been notified of the investigation, hailed Cienfuegos’ return as a diplomatic achievement and a victory for the nation’s sovereignty.

Ebrard and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have denied speculation that the decision to fire him was tied to Lopez Obrador’s refusal so far to recognize President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the US presidential election – a decision Lopez Obrador called it “politically prudent.”

Lopez Obrador’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The DEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on a deal to capture a cartel figure. Reuters was unable to establish details of the deal.

CALLS WITH BARR

After the US conviction last year of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the best-known leader of the Sinaloa cartel, US and Mexican law enforcement has turned to rival cartel Jalisco New Generation, as well as the rest

Gang of Sinaloa.

The DEA says these two groups are “possibly the main trafficking groups responsible for smuggling fentanyl into the United States.”

Fentanyl is a strong synthetic opioid often mixed on the black market with heroin or pharmaceutical fake pain relievers. It is the leading cause of overdose death in the United States.

The Mexican government has not specified how the plan to bring Cienfuegos back to Mexico came about, nor when it requested his return.

The source, along with another senior government official, said Barr first proposed the idea of ​​withdrawing the charges against Cienfuegos during an appeal with Ebrard in early November.

The source said the idea came from Barr and was not originally a request from Mexico.

Ebrard spokesman Millan said Mexico had requested that the charges be dropped, but could not confirm when or if the request took place before a Nov. 6 appeal with Barr.

Ebrard this week confirmed two calls with Barr, one in October and one on November 6.

“The proposals … came from Attorney General Barr,” on an appeal in November, the source said, referring to both the idea of ​​dropping the charges and the pledge to grab a capo senior.

Asked whether Barr offered Mexico to drop the charges, rather than the other way around, the Justice Department spokeswoman said she could not comment on contacts with foreign governments regarding the charges. survey questions.

While the administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump had promised to weaken the Mexican cartels, there had been no high-profile arrests in the past four years before Cienfuegos was captured on his way to the United States. United States for vacation.



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