More Mexican leaders are being implicated in the Sinaloa cartel’s dirty dealings during ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s trial

  • The trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has entered its second week.
  • In testimony on Tuesday, a former senior Sinaloa cartel figure implicated more Mexican officials in corruption.
  • Guzman’s defence team is trying to cast him as a “scapegoat” for the cartel’s true leaders.

A little over a week into the trial of accused Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, testimony has already implicated two former presidents and other senior officials in corruption and bribery.

Jesus “El Rey” Zambada, the youngest brother of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, another Sinaloa cartel leader, took the stand for his final day of testimony on Tuesday.

On Monday, Zambada recounted numerous incidents of bloodshed attributed to his supposed boss, Guzman, at times meted out for minor reasons, like refusing to shake Guzman’s hand.

Zambada, a senior Sinaloa cartel member until his arrest in 2008, made the latest accusation of high-level corruption on Tuesday during cross-examination by Guzman’s defence team, who’ve argued their client is a scapegoat for the cartel’s real leader, “El Mayo,” Mexican government officials, and US law enforcement.

Zambada said the cartel twice made multimillion-dollar payments to Genaro Garcia Luna, a Mexican security official.

Sometime between 2005 and 2006, Zambada and a lawyer for his brother met Garcia Luna at a restaurant in Mexico City, according to testimony recounted by Victor Sancho, the US correspondent for Mexican newspaper El Universal.

Garcia Luna was head of Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency at the time, and the $US3 million payoff was to ensure he would appoint a specific official as police chief in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state and the cartel’s home turf.

The official in question was “in the pocket” of “El Mayo,” one of Guzman’s lawyers said Tuesday. Zambada said he personally handed Garcia Luna the briefcase with the money.

At the time of the other payment, in 2007, Garcia Luna was public-security secretary in the government of President Felipe Calderon, a Cabinet position that oversaw the federal police

Garcia Luna got between $US3 million and $US5 million to make sure “he didn’t interfere in the drug business” and that “El Mayo” was not arrested, Zambada said, according to Sancho.

Zambada also said that members of the Sinaloa cartel, including members of the Beltran Leyva Organisation, which was a Sinaloa cartel ally until a split in the late 2000s, also pooled $US50 million in protection money for Garcia Luna.

“That was said,” Zambada said of the pooled money, according to Sancho.

Calderon, who left office in 2012, first deployed troops en masse in Mexico to fight drug-related violence. During that administration, Garcia Luna was criticised for the country’s precipitous rise in drug-related violence.

Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration who worked with Garcia Luna in the 1990s and 2000s, cast doubt on allegations against the former Mexican official.

“I worked with Genaro Garcia Luna for many decades, and during that time period we shared very sensitive information,” Vigil said Tuesday. “He never, ever compromised it. He would give us access to all of the information that they had.”

“During the time that I worked with him,” Vigil added, “he never compromised any of our cases.”

“If Jesus Christ were to be named head of the Federal Police in Mexico, within two weeks they would be accusing him of corruption,” Vigil said. Garcia Luna “always, always cooperated with us,” providing information and pursuing operations.

In a letter released Tuesday night, Garcia Luna denied Zambada’s claims, calling them a “lie, defamation and perjury.”

As a public official charged with fighting crime, Garcia Luna added, “I have been the subject of defamation, as I have attacked the interests of organised crime. Never has a single proof or evidence of any of these infamies been brought.”

Garcia Luna was not the only official mentioned on Tuesday. Zambada said that in 2005, his brother paid a “few million dollars” to an adviser to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was at the time the mayor of Mexico City and will take office as Mexico’s president on December 1.

Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador presidential election voting ballot
Presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador casts his vote during Mexico’s 2018 presidential election in Mexico City, Mexico, July 1, 2018. Pedro Mera/Getty Images

The payment was made in the belief that the official would be public-security secretary if Lopez Obrador won the presidential election in 2006. (Lopez Obrador stepped down as mayor in mid-2005 to run for president, losing a disputed election to Calderon.)

Though the official in question was not immediately clear in court, Gabriel Regino, who was a security official during Lopez Obrador’s mayorship, denied the allegation, saying on Twitter, “It is false that during my exercise of public service I have received some bribe from the trafficker Jesus Zambada.”

Regino said his government position had “motivated” accusations against him and that he denied “categorically” Zambada’s claims. He said he was ready to testify to any authority, national or foreign.

During opening statements last week, Guzman’s defence said that “El Mayo” Zambada had maintained his freedom through “hundreds of millions of dollars” in bribes that went “up to the very top,” including to the current and former presidents of Mexico, both of whom denied the allegation.

Guzman defence also said that “El Rey” Zambada would say he “paid off, at the request of Mayo, the now incumbent president of Mexico to the tune of $US6 million or more on two separate occasions at a restaurant.”

When Guzman’s lawyer asked Zambada about the relationship between the official and Lopez Obrador, prosecutors objected and Judge Brian Cogan stopped that line of questioning, according to Reuters legal reporter Brendan Pierson, who added that earlier in the day Cogan had issued a “heavily redacted order” limiting what the defence could ask the prosecution’s cooperating witnesses during cross-examinations.

Cogan said information gained from a broad cross-examination wouldn’t outweigh “protecting individuals” who weren’t part of the case and “would suffer embarrassment,”according to New York Times legal reporter Alan Feuer.

This story has been updated with comment from Genaro Garcia Luna.