El Chapo's cartel funneled 'millions in bribes' to top Mexican official: US prosecutors

"The defendant took millions of dollars of bribes again, again and again," said government attorney Philip Pilmar.

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal QC
A former top Mexican law enforcement official is accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from the very cartels that he was tasked to take down, US prosecutors say. Genaro Garcia Luna, who was the head of Mexico's equivalent of the FBI, allegedly took millions of dollars in bribes to grant protection to the Sinaloa cartel, a Brooklyn court heard on Monday. 

Prosecutors say that the protection allowed the Sinaloa cartel, headed by notorious drug kingpin El Chapo, to ship drugs into the US while allowing them to evade arrest. Accusations against Garcia Luna started after El Chapo's 2019 trial. El Chapo, whose real name is Joaquin Guzman, is serving a life sentence in the US after being convicted by a jury.

According to The Guardian, prosecutors and defense attorneys presented their opening arguments before the jury on Monday. The prosecution focused mainly on Garcia Luna's alleged aiding of the cartel to traffic drugs through the US. Prosecutors say that Luna also tipped the cartel off to arrests which allowed cartel members to walk free.

In a letter sent earlier this month to Judge Brian M Cogan, US attorney for the eastern district of New York Breon Peace said that "While holding public office, the defendant used his official positions to assist the Sinaloa Cartel, a notorious Mexican drug cartel, in exchange for multimillion-dollar bribes."

Peace said that the government expects a number of former high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel to testify during the trial.

"In exchange for these bribes, the defendant provided the Sinaloa Cartel with, among other things, safe passage for its drug shipments, sensitive law enforcement information about investigations into the cartel, and information about rival drug cartels," Peace wrote.

"These payments allowed the cartel at times to receive warnings in advance of law enforcement efforts to apprehend cartel members and to allow cartel members to be released if arrested. During the time that the defendant protected the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for bribes, the cartel was able to send multi-ton drug loads to the Eastern District of New York, including Brooklyn and Queens," he added.

"The defendant took millions of dollars of bribes again, again and again," said government attorney Philip Pilmar, reports The Guardian. "He is a man who betrayed his country and ours."

Garcia Luna pleaded not guilty to five counts that carry possible sentences of 10 years to life in prison. Garcia Luna's legal team, headed by lawyer Cesar de Castro, said that the allegations were false and pointed to a lack of evidence from US authorities.

He said there is "no money, no photos, no video, no texts, no emails, no recordings, no documents – no credible, believable evidence that Genaro García Luna helped the cartel."

The US government alleges that Garcia Luna started working with the Sinaloa cartel as far back as January 2001, when he was working in police intelligence. Garcia Luna was the architect of then-president Felipe Calderon's anti-cartel crackdown. Prosecutors say that Garcia Luna headed the plan while agreeing not to interfere with drug shipments and even targeted rival cartel members for arrest.

One Sinaloa cartel member had even said during Guzman's trial that he had delivered suitcases containing $6 million USD in cash to Garcia Luna at a restaurant in 2005, 2006, and 2007. His attorneys say that the government is relying mainly on witnesses who are seeking revenge, as Garcia Luna had been key to imprisoning them. 

"They are casualties of Felipe Calderon's war. They want to kill two birds with the same stone -- reduce their sentence and take revenge against the person they hate the most," de Castro told the court.

The current Mexican government accuses him of stealing more than $200 million in public funds.

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