(The Hill) — A federal court in New York on Tuesday convicted Mexico’s former head of internal security, who was accused of engaging in a criminal enterprise, making false statements, and conspiring to distribute 58 tons of cocaine.
Former Public Security Secretary Genaro García Luna led Mexican law enforcement, including the now-defunct Federal Police, from 2006 to 2012, and had previously been in charge of the country’s also-defunct criminal investigation agency.
U.S. law enforcement officials who investigated and prosecuted García Luna took a victory lap Tuesday, painting the conviction as a major win against narcotrafficking and corruption.
“García Luna, who once stood at the pinnacle of law enforcement in Mexico, will now live the rest of his days having been revealed as a traitor to his country and to the honest members of law enforcement who risked their lives to dismantle drug cartels,” United States Attorney Breon Peace said.
“Today’s verdict is a shining light for the rule of law, right over wrong, and justice over injustice for all those who have suffered as a result of the defendant’s deplorable crimes,” he added.
Representatives for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) also flaunted the most politically significant conviction of a high Mexican official in a U.S. court.
“It should send a clear message — to all political leaders around the world that trade on positions of influence to further transnational organized crime – that DEA will relentlessly pursue drug trafficking organizations that threaten the safety and health of the American people,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.
Yet the prosecution’s case raised eyebrows in Mexico, as it relied largely on the testimony of convicted cartel operatives, some of whom were well-known bosses.
“I’m not asking you like them,” Prosecutor Saritha Komatireddy told the jury, according to the New York Times.
“These people have done horrible things. They’re criminals. But it takes one to know one.”
If the jury had any doubt about the witnesses, they did not show it in their verdict, finding García Luna guilty of all charges leveled against him, including participating in the distribution of 58 tons of cocaine.
García Luna was also accused of receiving millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for protection from the Federal Police, as well as for leaking government information to the narcos.
García Luna’s conviction is a boon for current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has often blamed his predecessors for the country’s ills and has shown particular resentment against former President Felipe Calderón, García Luna’s former boss.
It’s also a disturbing sign for Calderón, who was briefly mentioned in a negative light by a witness in García Luna’s trial, although that witnesses’ account of Calderón’s involvement in the incident in question was based entirely on hearsay.
Calderón immediately denied the allegations made on the witness stand by Edgar “El Diablo” Veytia, a former Nayarit state prosecutor who was convicted of drug trafficking by the same court in 2019.
But the entire trial was seen as a broader indictment of the Mexican criminal justice system, which at one time was led by García Luna and its collaboration with U.S. authorities.
“Corrupt officials like Garcia Luna create a dangerous work environment for U.S. law enforcement who often share sensitive information with the Mexican government to stem the flow of dangerous narcotics into the United States,” said HSI New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo.
“HSI, along with our law enforcement partners, will aggressively pursue individuals and organizations that negatively impact the national security of the United States and the safety of its citizens.”
The verdict comes at a time when relations between the United States and Mexico are somewhat strained amid growing concerns in Washington over illicit fentanyl smuggled across the border.
López Obrador has largely shopped out Mexican policing to the armed forces, all the while focusing his attention on a series of pet projects, like a refinery and a tourist train in the country’s southeast.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) last week in a hearing on fentanyl trafficking called on the Biden administration to harden its approach towards López Obrador.
“We work with our Mexican friends with kid gloves on this issue and I just — it’s just fundamentally wrong,” Menendez said.
“I don’t know how many more lives have to be lost for Mexico to get engaged. If this was in the reverse, they’d be all over us. President López Obrador would be all over us in this regard.”