- Genaro Garcia Luna, who was Mexico’s public-security secretary between 2006 and 2012, was arrested in Texas on Monday.
- Garcia Luna, the architect of Mexico’s campaign against organized crime in the late 2000s, is the latest Mexican official accused of corruption and involvement in drug trafficking.
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A former high-ranking Mexican security official who led the country’s crackdown on organized crime in the mid-2000s was arrested in the US and been charged with drug-trafficking conspiracy and making false statements.
Genaro Garcia Luna, 51, was arrested in Dallas by US federal agents, according to the US district attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which said it plans to seek his removal to face charges in New York.
“Garcia Luna stands accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel while he controlled Mexico’s Federal Police Force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico,” US Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said in the release.
Garcia Luna began his career with Mexico’s Center for National Security and Investigation in the late 1980s before moving to the federal police in the late 1990s. He was then head of Mexico’s federal investigation agency, AFI, between 2001 and 2005 and secretary of public security, controlling the federal police, between 2006 and 2012.
He was 38 when appointed to the latter position by then-President Felipe Calderon but already had nearly 20 years of experience in Mexico’s security services, much of it spent tracking organized crime and drug trafficking.
“By his late 20s, he was considered something of a wunderkind,” according to a 2008 New York Times profile.
“He really was the architect of Calderon’s war on drugs,” said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, who worked with Garcia Luna in Mexico in the 1990s.
That war comprised major military deployments inside the country and the kingpin strategy, which entailed targeting high-level cartel figures in an effort to weaken the cartels. This approach has been criticized for fostering more violence, both by state forces and fragmented cartels.
According to the release, Garcia Luna received millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa cartel. In return, the release states, the cartel received safe passage for drug shipments, sensitive law-enforcement information about investigations targeting it, and information about rival cartels — all of which allowed it to move multiton quantities of drugs into the US.
Financial records obtained by the US government showed that by the time Garcia Luna relocated to the US in 2012, he had a personal fortune worth millions of dollars, according to the release, which said he is also accused of lying about those alleged criminal acts on an application for naturalization submitted in 2018.
‘Another black eye for Mexico’
One detail in the release mirrors allegations made during the trial of Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was convicted on drug trafficking and other charges in the Eastern District of New York in February.
“On two occasions, the cartel personally delivered bribe payments to Garcia Luna in briefcases containing between three and five million dollars,” the release states.
During testimony in November 2018, Jesus “El Rey” Zambada — the youngest brother of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who is considered Guzman’s peer at the top of the Sinaloa cartel and now its de facto leader — said the cartel twice made multimillion-dollar payments to Garcia Luna.
A $3 million payment, which “El Rey” said was to Garcia Luna at a restaurant in Mexico City between 2005 and 2006, was to ensure he would pick a specific official as police chief in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state and the cartel’s home turf.
“El Rey” said the other payment, between $3 million and $5 million, was in 2007 and was to make sure “he didn’t interfere in the drug business” and that “El Mayo” was not arrested. Zambada also said that the Sinaloa cartel and its partners also pooled $50 million in protection money for Garcia Luna.
A press officer for the Eastern District of New York did not immediately respond when asked by email whether the charges unsealed Tuesday against Garcia Luna stemmed from allegations made during Guzman’s trial.
At the time, Garcia Luna denied Zambada’s claims, calling them a “lie, defamation and perjury.” On Tuesday, Calderon said he had heard of Garcia Luna’s arrest but was awaiting confirmation and further details, tweeting that his “position will always be in favor of justice and the law.”
Vigil, who was the DEA assistant country attache to Mexico during the 1990s, was skeptical of the allegations made during the Guzman trial and said he was “surprised” by the arrest on Tuesday.
“I worked with Genaro Garcia Luna,” Vigil said. “We, DEA, had a very good working relationship with Genaro. At that time there were no allegations of corruption. There we coordinated investigations with them, and we never saw any evidence of compromise.”
The allegations made during that trial seemed “less than credible,” Vigil said, in large part because Guzman was arrested twice during the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who followed Calderon into office in 2012.
But it was possible that a high-ranking Mexican official could obscure activities in one area from their work with the US in another area.
“In terms of what the US sees, [it’s] very different than what occurs within the Mexican government, but through time if he were taking bribes, obviously some of those investigations, you would’ve known if they had been compromised,” Vigil said. “But there’s some areas that could be compartmentalized in terms of efforts by the Mexican government.”
If convicted on the drug-conspiracy charge, Garcia Luna faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in jail.
“Today’s arrest demonstrates our resolve to bring to justice those who help cartels inflict devastating harm on the United States and Mexico, regardless of the positions they held while committing their crimes.” Donoghue, the US attorney, said in the release, thanking the DEA, the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, as well as police in New York City and New York state.
Regardless of the outcome of the case, it tarnishes a bilateral relationship in which cooperation against organized crime and drug trafficking has been a major component.
“I don’t know what the evidence is against Genaro Garcia Luna,” Vigil said Tuesday, “but it certainly is another black eye for Mexico.”