The former head of Mexico’s security forces, Genaro García Luna, has been found guilty of helping the country’s notorious Sinaloa cartel expand with impunity and flood US cities with cocaine, becoming the highest-ranking government official to be convicted over links to drug trafficking.
A jury in Brooklyn returned the verdict on Tuesday, following a four-week trial in which members of the cartel once run by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán testified that García Luna accepted millions of dollars worth of bribes from the same criminal organisation he was supposed to help bring to justice.
The prosecution alleged that the protection García Luna afforded the cartel allowed it to smuggle tens of thousands of kilogrammes of cocaine into the US, and move around Mexico without hindrance.
Members of the cartel were even given law enforcement uniforms and credentials, as well as police vehicles, US prosecutors said.
“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,” US attorney Breon Peace said following the verdict.
“It is unconscionable that the defendant betrayed his duty . . . by greedily accepting millions of dollars in bribe money that was stained by the blood of cartel wars and drug-related battles,” Peace added.
In closing statements last week, assistant US attorney Saritha Komatireddy said García Luna controlled Mexico’s “highways, airport and ports” and thus helped the Sinaloa cartel become the “FedEx of cocaine”, moving the drug across North America using trains, ships, containers and submarines.
García Luna, who went on to become Mexico’s minister of public security and was the face of the country’s war on drugs during the Felipe Calderón administration, was found guilty of five counts, including cocaine distribution and making a false statement to the US government.
The 54-year-old now faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, and a maximum of life imprisonment. A sentencing date was set for June 27.
García Luna was arrested in Dallas in 2019, after evidence given in the trial that led to the conviction of El Chapo pointed to his involvement with the Sinaloa cartel. He had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
US prosecutors called a number of former cartel members, including Sergio “El Grande” Villarreal Barragán and the Sinaloa criminal organisation’s one-time accountant Jesús “El Rey” Zambada, who testified that he oversaw millions of dollars in cash being given to García Luna in a Mexico City restaurant.
“You heard directly from the people who paid him,” prosecutors told the jury during closing arguments last week, adding that the defendant had “helped arrest and kill Sinaloa cartel rivals”.
García Luna’s counsel said the witnesses were criminals responsible for “horrific crimes” who were “testifying to save themselves” in exchange for more favourable sentences or their families being allowed to join them in the US.
Speaking outside the courthouse on Tuesday, his lawyer, César de Castro, said “the government had no reliable evidence to corroborate their witnesses,” and that Garcia Luna’s “fight will continue”. He later added that his client would consider appealing against the verdict
The trial has been closely watched in Mexico, with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador giving regular updates on the proceedings. He sees the case as evidence of his view that his predecessors were all corrupt, in particular Calderon, who narrowly beat him in the 2006 election.
“The crimes against our people will never be forgotten,” the president’s spokesman, Jesús Ramírez Cuevas, tweeted.
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