By Samir Tounsi
Mexico is on tenterhooks awaiting fresh revelations from the US trial of former security chief Genaro Garcia Luna, accused of receiving vast sums of money to allow the notorious Sinaloa cartel to smuggle cocaine.
The trial of Garcia Luna, who was Mexico’s public security minister from 2006 to 2012, began on Monday at the same New York court that handed convicted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman a life sentence in 2019.
The prosecution’s first witness, an ex-police officer who later worked for Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel, said he had witnessed former gang boss Arturo Beltran Leyva, who was killed in 2009, give bribes to Garcia Luna.
“He was paid until Beltran’s last day,” Sergio Villarreal Barragan said in Spanish.
In exchange for money, Garcia Luna provided information about police operations, Villarreal Barragan testified — claims denied by lawyers for the 54-year-old ex-minister, who has pleaded not guilty.
Mexican media have given blow-by-blow accounts of the proceedings, while President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has promised daily updates at his morning news conferences.
Lopez Obrador called the allegations “shameful,” while his government is seeking to recover $700 million allegedly embezzled by Garcia Luna.
A lawsuit was filed on September 21, 2021 in Florida against 39 companies belonging to Garcia Luna or his relatives.
The objective is “to return to Mexico all the property that exists in the name of Genaro Garcia Luna in Florida,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said.
Lopez Obrador, who took office in 2018, suggested three hypotheses on the situation surrounding Garcia Luna:
First, if he’s innocent, he must be released “even if it’s a fiasco” for the United States.
The second possibility is that Garcia Luna acted alone, deceiving Mexican authorities including former president Felipe Calderon (2006-12).
Lopez Obrador’s third conjecture is that Garcia Luna may have acted with a “green light” from Calderon as well as former president Vicente Fox (2000-06).
A left-wing populist, Lopez Obrador regularly accuses his “conservative” predecessors of corruption, and even organized a referendum in 2021 on whether former presidents should be prosecuted for graft.
The poll’s result in favor was non-binding due to low turnout.
Garcia Luna, who was arrested in December 2019 in Texas, was Washington’s interlocutor when he was Calderon’s security chief.
Meeting then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2009 as the neighboring countries launched a joint initiative to fight cross-border organized crime, the pair were all smiles as they shook hands in front of the cameras.
As the boss of the police, the former minister was a pivotal player in the war against drug cartels launched by Calderon in 2006.
At the time, the super-cop was already allegedly profiting from his influence with “El Chapo,” US authorities charged in 2020.
“From 2001 to 2012, while occupying high-ranking law enforcement positions in the Mexican government, Garcia Luna received millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for providing protection for its drug trafficking activities,” the Justice Department said.
Before becoming a government minister, Garcia Luna, an engineer by training, headed Mexico’s since-renamed Federal Investigation Agency, a branch of the police.
Hailing from a modest district of Mexico City, Garcia Luna entered the security services at the age of 21.
It was there that Garcia Luna, known for always being elegantly dressed, met his wife, an intelligence analyst.
According to journalist Francisco Cruz, who wrote a book about the ex-security chief, Garcia Luna sought to model himself on the late American J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s first director who served for nearly a half-century.
The nature of his work meant that Garcia Luna crossed paths with US security agencies, whose presence in Mexico is an open secret.
“We had a close relationship with him on the themes of crime and drug trafficking,” said Mike Vigil, a retired chief of international operations at the US Drug Enforcement Administration .
The trial is expected to last several weeks and if convicted, Garcia Luna could face up to life in prison.