Mexico Exonerates Ex-Defense Chief Who Was Freed by the U.S.

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MEXICO CITY — The authorities in Mexico say they will bring no charges against a former top military official who was arrested in the United States last year on drug-trafficking and corruption charges, only to be sent home at the request of the outraged Mexican government.

The former defense minister, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, had been accused by the U.S. authorities of taking bribes in exchange for protecting drug cartel leaders. He was arrested at the request of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles in October.

Mr. Cienfuegos was apparently known as “El Padrino,” or The Godfather, by one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels. Officials said General Cienfuegos directed military operations away from the criminal group in exchange for large sums of cash. But the Justice Department abruptly dropped the case against him in November, and he was allowed to return to Mexico.

Late Thursday night, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office said in a statement that General Cienfuegos — who served as defense minister in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration from 2012 to 2018 — “never had any encounter with the members of the criminal organization.”

They also said he had not provided any kind of protection to cartel members and had never received any “illegal income.”

The news will most likely deal another blow to U.S. officials, particularly those in the State Department and in Congress, who were stunned by the Justice Department’s decision to free General Cienfuegos and allow him to face justice in Mexico.

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