The U.S. Department of Justice is seeking to drop federal charges against a former Mexican defense secretary, the highest-ranking Mexican official arrested for alleged drug trafficking, so that he “may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law,” NPR reports. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, nicknamed The Godfather, is accused of working on behalf of one of Mexico’s deadliest cartels, the H-2. Authorities alleged Cienfuegos took bribes to protect the cartel by informing it of pending military actions against them. An indictment in Brooklyn alleged he used troops to launch operations against a rival cartel.
The 72-year-old was taken into custody last month at Los Angeles International Airport and faced charges of conspiracy to manufacture, import and distribute narcotics into the U.S. and money laundering. On on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr and Mexico Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero announced the unusual decision to have Cienfuegos released into that country’s custody. Officials explained the move comes “under the Treaty that governs the sharing of evidence,” saying the Justice Department provided Mexico with evidence against Cienfuegos and will cooperate “to support the investigation by Mexican authorities.” The former general retired this year after a long career in the Mexican army. His last post was defense secretary under former President Enrique Pena Nieto. His arrest caused shockwaves among Mexico’s political elite, who saw it as a sign of corruption at the highest levels of that country’s powerful leaders. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador expressed outrage at the U.S.’s unilateral move to arrest the formerly high ranking official, saying it was a violation of national sovereignty.