Thousands of intercepted messages, photos and reports: the DEA file against General Cienfuegos

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The Foreign Ministry publishes the documentation of the US anti-drug agency after the Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the charges of drug trafficking against the military

The Ministry of Foreign Relations of Mexico has released this Friday the file of the United States anti-drug agency (DEA, for its acronym in English) against the former Secretary of National Defense Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda for alleged links with drug trafficking and money laundering. The report, sent by the Department of Justice to the Mexican authorities, collects in more than 700 pages thousands of cell phone messages intercepted between December 2015 and February 2017 in which the military is allegedly referred to or intervened. The DEA seeks to demonstrate with them that the drug trafficker Juan Francisco Patron Sánchez, known as H-2 , had the protection of Cienfuegos in exchange for bribes. However, both the messages attributed by the agents to Cienfuegos and the conversations between the leaders of the criminal organization, a split from the clan of the Beltrán Leyva brothers, do not make this clear. The Attorney General’s Office (FGR) on Thursday dismissed all charges against the former head of the Armed Forces during Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration.

The file, which includes photographs and documents, has been revealed hours after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordered its publication due to the exoneration of the general of the charges that Washington imputed to him. The FGR on Thursday dismissed all the accusations and the president came to point out this Friday to the DEA attributing to the agency the attempt to “fabricate” a case. Cienfuegos was detained at the Los Angeles airport on October 15 by the US authorities, who did not notify their Mexican counterparts for fear of a leak. A month later, thanks to diplomatic efforts from the Foreign Ministry and pressure from the Government, the general returned to Mexico with the promise that he would be investigated by the Prosecutor’s Office based on the documentation sent by the DEA. This procedure involved the formal cancellation of the charges of drug trafficking and money laundering brought by the United States and today the military man has been released on both sides of the border.

In the letter that heads the documentation that the Department of Justice sent the Mexican Foreign Ministry, Timothy J. Shea, director of the DEA, tells Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard that General Cienfuegos was accused in the United States “for crimes related to drug trafficking.” . According to the investigation, the Major General and former Secretary of Defense “was never the central object of the investigation,” but the DEA “discovered“ information that reflected his criminal activity when it began investigating in 2013 some heroin drug dealers in La Vegas to whom Juan Francisco Patron, alias H2, supplied drugs.

Police officers guard the house of Francisco Patrón alias H2 in Tepic, Nayarit.
Police officers guard the house of Francisco Patrón alias H2 in Tepic, Nayarit. EFE

The DEA maintains that, while Cienfuegos held the post of Secretary of Defense, “it helped the Patron Sánchez drug trafficking organization and encourage its violent and illegal actions. The tests will prove that he received bribes from the Patron Sánchez organization in exchange for protection, provided safe routes for the passage of drugs and weapons to Mexico City, and gave information on military and police operations in Mexico, ”the signed letter states. by J. Shea. The documents added are the more than 700 pages of evidence that the DEA claims to have. It is “a copy of the key evidence that was used to accuse Cienfuegos” and that consists mainly of intercepted communications, drug seizures and cooperating witnesses, who gave details about the illegal activities of the Patron organization, says the document delivered to Mexico.

The evidence on Patron Sánchez, according to the DEA, included “some references to Cienfuegos Zepeda as Padrino and Zepeda  and consisted of screenshots of messages that Cienfuegos Zepeda exchanged with Silva Gárate and that were shared between Silvia Gárate (alias H-9 ) and Patron Sánchez (H-2), indicates the document received in Mexico. “Likewise, the evidence included screenshots of communications from Cienfuegos Zepeda about meetings between the DEA and their counterparts in the Mexican government about an investigation that targeted the Patron Sánchez drug trafficking organization. According to the United States, the DEA investigation also revealed Cienfuegos’ role in restricting military operations in Nayarit to protect Patron Sánchez’s operations.

Screenshots that are part of the file released by the Ministry of Foreign Relations.
Screenshots that are part of the file released by the Ministry of Foreign Relations. COURTESY

Carlos Pérez Ricart, a doctor in political science and an expert in the bilateral relationship between Mexico and the United States, affirms that “it is possible that the evidence we have seen is not all that they have in the United States. And if it is everything, it is very little. In any case, it would be necessary to demand to see the investigation of the FGR. What is clear is that if your evidence is the conversations between H9 [alias Daniel Silva] and H2 then you have nothing. I’ve seen dozens of investigations and evidence against drug lords. “

“I understand that the evidence assumes that the Cienfuegos of the chat is the real Cienfuegos. That’s unlikely for two things, ”adds Ricart. “First, it is hard to believe that the secretary was going to personally write to a petty capo. And second, it is incredible to believe that he writes that way. I don’t know if the Blackberries were geolocated and that made the DEA think that, in effect, the signal came from the Cienfuegos Blackberry ”.

In Pérez Ricart’s opinion, moreover, the consequences of the disclosure of the DEA material will be serious: “This documentation was given to Foreign Relations under the condition of confidentiality. Making it known helps to make the case transparent (although it is still insufficient because we do not know the investigation of the FGR) and, in addition, it is a sign of harshness that cannot but be read together with the new law on agents in Mexico. It is a sign of strength that can cost a lot to the bilateral relationship ”.

Images of conversations in Cienfuegos that are part of the file released by the Government of Mexico.
Images of conversations in Cienfuegos that are part of the file released by the Government of Mexico. COURTESY

But beyond the document released, Hugo Concha Cantú, a researcher at the UNAM Institute of Legal Research, emphasizes that the case in the United States had already gone much further than the initial investigation by the DEA. “The New York prosecutors drew up a formal indictment before a judge. And the judge not only accepted the complaint but did not admit release on bail before starting the trial. Now it turns out that the whole way of processing in the US is ineffective. ” The lawyer stresses that the hardcore of the case is in the file put together by the acting prosecutor in Brooklyn, Seth DuCharme. “The question is, how much information did the US send to Mexico, and how much has been disclosed by Mexico now?”

El Chapo and alias ‘Samanta’

In a conversation dated January 8, 2016, a few hours after the arrest of Joaquín El Chapo Guzman along with his right hand, Iván Gastelum, alias El Cholo, in Los Mochis (Sinaloa), the two drug traffickers confirm the news. This time they don’t mention El Chapo, but El Cholo. And one of them asks the one who allegedly had access to The Godfather, known as Samanta alias if it is possible to assassinate him in the jail where he is imprisoned. They both laugh. In a previous conversation, Samanta promised the other narco that El Padrino would help them protect the Mazatlán area (on the Sinaloa coast), that there would be no operations against him. They also commented that he did not trust others like El Chapo or El Mencho, who for El Padrino were “scum.” And that he was going to introduce “his friend the admiral” probably refers to the head of the Navy at the time, Francisco Soberón, although no further details or names are given in the conversations. The narco is grateful and promises him loyalty. “I’m showing the messages to The Godfather, he says that nothing will happen to him,” Samanta reminds him.

In this fragment of conversations, from December 2015, the narco makes himself available to the general and assures him that “he will do what he says.” He also asks for help in Nayarit and mentions the leader of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, the most powerful group in Mexico according to the DEA, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias El Mencho: “Help us here in the south with the menchos and be calmer” . At another point, it is claimed that El Padrino is going against El Mencho and the narco warns him that he has hidden in the hill.

Military operation in Nayarit and Jalisco against the Beltrán Leyva cartel.
Military operation in Nayarit and Jalisco against the Beltrán Leyva cartel. HECTOR-GUERRERO

The narco complained in a conversation in mid-January about military operations in his area. Samanta, through The Godfather, assures him that he has not authorized anything. And everything indicates that he is protecting them in exchange for bribes. In February, in another talk, The Godfather asks them for 4 pesos, which is understood to be millions of pesos, but the drug trafficker insists that he has not been able to raise enough money. And they agree to an appointment later in the capital.

Thor and Superman

In another long thread of conversations, two interlocutors who appear identified as Thor and Superman, share information, dated throughout 2016, about the purchase of long weapons – goat horns -, questions about “how much per kilo” and mentions of different Characters that may coincide with leaders of organized crime factions: Dámaso (Dámaso López, alias El Licenciado, one of El Chapo’s successors at the head of the Sinaloa cartel) or Archivaldo (Iván Archibaldo Guzman, one of the capo’s sons). The two interlocutors, supposedly two middle managers of the Beltrán Leyva group They hold extensive conversations about who is really the strong man the Government that would be on their side, the so-called Godfather. Superman asks if the Godfather is a retired general, güero, and friend of the Secretary of Defense. Thor responds that he is not retired, that his contact is a “little white boy and man.” The conversation ends with a “if he is the secretary of defense, how will he be retired”. In another excerpt, Superman says: “what I do see is that we are more protected. I don’t know if it was for Cienfuegos ”. Superman tells him that his sources “know the name of Salvador.” Thor asks who Salvador is: “Salvador Cienfuegos, The Godfather “, he answers and points out that “The godfather’s wife is Kiri’s sister”

Towards the end of the document, there is another exchange of messages between Thor and Superman in which it is said that the police have apprehended El Mochillo, a member of the alleged lower-ranking cartel and that they would ask The Godfather to help them authorities release him. “I hotshot The Godfather,” says Thor. “You tell me and we ask for the favor,” he adds.

Salvador Cienfuegos during a review at the Campo Militar in Mexico City in 2013.
Salvador Cienfuegos during a review at the Mexico City Military Field in 2013. EL PAÍS

The last part of the file that the Mexican Prosecutor’s Office has provided includes images of drug messages that the group La Nueva Alianza H’s and M’s left their rivals. “This is what will happen to all kidnappers, extortionists, and rapists,” read the threats. Photographs are also added of those who are supposed to be rival bosses who are gagged and bound or, in some cases, who were killed.

“With this message, people will know how things are,” Thor tells Superman while discussing the messages against their antagonists. “Because you can see what The Godfather said that could harm us, that just because he is my friend, otherwise they would already be looking for El Mayo here,” adds Thor. The cryptic tone of the messages casts doubt on whether those in question are high-profile drug traffickers like Ismael El Mayo Zambada, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. There are images of trucks, long guns, and a capture of a conversation with Zepeda, in which the name of a major general (Javier Cruz Rivas) is given to help the cartel members, although without giving further details.

Source: elpais.com

Mexico Daily Post

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