File photo of Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security, Genaro García Luna, at a press conference on the sidelines of the American Police Community meeting in Mexico City on October 8, 2010. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte, File)
NEW YORK (AP) — Shielded by anonymity and added security, jurors heard Monday the start of a rare U.S. trial of a former Mexican federal official accused of accepting bribes to help drug traffickers he should be fighting.
After blowing a kiss to his wife and daughter in the courtroom, Genaro García Luna, once Mexico’s top public security official, watched without much reaction as opening arguments were delivered. His case covers Mexican politics, the extensive and violent drug trade, the uncomfortable connection between the two spheres, and the relationship between the United States and Mexico in the fight against drugs and corruption.
García Luna is accused of accepting briefcases full of cash — millions of dollars in total — to allow the notorious Sinaloa cartel to operate with impunity while shipping tons of cocaine to the United States.
“The person who was supposed to be in charge of fighting the Sinaloa cartel was actually their most valued asset…and with their help, the cartel made millions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Pilmar told the jury. He described García Luna as “a man who betrayed both countries: his and ours.”
He added that although García Luna posed as a hero in the fight against illicit drugs in both countries, he ensured that the cartel received information about the investigations, had easy passage for cocaine through police checkpoints, and police escorts. , and sometimes even official badges for cartel members. Agents personally delivered drug shipments from airports, and acted as mercenaries to kill people the cartel wanted to disappear, Pilmar said.
His top lawyer, César de Castro, told jurors that the government’s indictment is based on “hearsay, speculation and the words of some of the world’s biggest criminals.”
“No money, no photo, no video, no text, no email, no recording, no document, no credible, credible evidence that Genaro García Luna helped the cartel,” said the lawyer in his opening statement. He described the case as “a very public and angry boast” by a US government that abandoned his partner in the fight against drugs.
De Castro said García Luna’s diligent pursuit of drug trafficking groups earned him a wide range of enemies, including cartels, corrupt police officers and politicians who opposed the drug war. The lawyer argued that cartel members who are willing to testify lie to reduce their own sentences and get revenge on a public official they consider responsible for his apprehension.
“Don’t let the cartels manipulate you,” he told the jury.
Shortly thereafter they heard a completely different story from a former police officer turned cartel member, Sergio Villarreal Barragán, known as “El Grande.”
Villarreal Barragán testified about joint operations between the police and the Sinaloa cartel in the city of Monterrey against a rival cartel; how police officers allowed him to establish routes for the transfer of shipments of between 800 and 1,200 kilograms (1,764 and 2,646 pounds) of cocaine several times a week through the state of Chiapas; and how the police informed the cartel in advance of future operations so that the traffickers could get rid of everything.
He also recalled that after drugs were seized from the Sinaloa cartel in Sonora state, he managed to recover the shipment after reminding the regional police commander that the cartel had had him appointed to the position.
During all of these alleged episodes in the early 2000s, García Luna was in charge of the federal police force, receiving payments from the Sinaloa cartel, according to Villarreal Barragán. He said that García Luna collected bags full of cash in a safe house in Mexico City and that he took 14 million dollars in cardboard boxes from a warehouse full of cocaine that the police had seized from the Gulf cartel and delivered to the group. from Sinaloa.
Cartel leaders considered Garcia Luna their best investment, said the witness, who pleaded guilty to drug charges. García Luna’s lawyers have not yet had the opportunity to question him.
García Luna directed the Federal Investigation Agency between 2001 and 2005, and then he was Secretary of Public Security in the government of President Felipe Calderón from 2006 to 2012.
As head of public security, García Luna was seen as the man in charge of Calderón’s bloody war against the cartels and a key ally in the US initiative that began with the administration of former President George W. Bush and provided Mexican police with equipment, technology and training to try to stem the flow of drugs across the border. In photos shown at the trial, Garcia Luna is seen with former US President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Senator John McCain and other top US officials.
However, for years, García Luna was also accused of having ties to drug traffickers.
Then, during the trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in New York, a former Sinaloa cartel member testified in 2018 that he personally delivered at least $6 million in bribes to García Luna and that cartel members agreed to collect $50 million. dollars to bribe him.
Garcia Luna, who moved to Miami after leaving his government post, was arrested in 2019 in Texas and has been held without bail in federal prison ever since. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of drug trafficking and participating in a criminal enterprise. The 54-year-old could spend decades in prison if he is convicted.
The current president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, welcomes the trial, which could expose corruption under a conservative predecessor.
Garcia Luna is on trial in the same Brooklyn federal court where Guzman was found guilty of decades-long management of a vast drug-trafficking operation.
As with Guzmán, the identity of the jurors in the trial against García Luna is kept confidential. They are also escorted to and from court by federal marshals and isolated from the public while inside.
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