Ex-security chief 'betrayed' Mexico, drugs trial hears

A once-powerful Mexican government minister betrayed his country by engaging in the very drug trafficking he was in charge of stopping, US prosecutors said at his trial Monday.

Genaro Garcia Luna is accused of receiving vast sums of money to allow the notorious Sinaloa cartel to smuggle cocaine when he was public security minister between 2006 and 2012.

"The defendant took millions of dollars of bribes again, again and again," government attorney Philip Pilmar said in opening arguments at Brooklyn federal court.

"He is a man who betrayed his country and ours," added the prosecutor, as the 54-year-old Garcia Luna looked on from the dock, sometimes blowing kisses to his wife and daughter.

Garcia Luna has pleaded not guilty to five counts that carry possible sentences of between 10 years and life in prison.

US prosecutors accuse him of looking the other way as drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's cartel shipped tons of drugs into the United States between 2001 and 2012.

Guzman is serving a life sentence in the United States after being convicted by a jury in Brooklyn in 2019.

The US government alleges that Garcia Luna became a member of Sinaloa around January 2001 when he was working in police intelligence.

From 2006 to 2012 he was the architect of then-president Felipe Calderon's crackdown on Mexico's drug gangs.

But prosecutors say that in exchange for millions of dollars, Garcia Luna agreed not to interfere with drug shipments, tipped off traffickers about law enforcement operations, targeted rival cartel members for arrest and placed other corrupt officials in positions of power.

- 'Casualties' -

A former Sinaloa member said at Guzman's trial that he had delivered suitcases containing at least $6 million in cash to Garcia Luna at a restaurant in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Garcia Luna's defense team has indicated it will argue that their client was actually helping the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

"No money, no photos, no video, no recording, no text, no evidence that Garcia Luna helped the cartel," attorney Cesar de Castro said during opening arguments by the defense.

He said the government's case would rely mainly on witnesses with an axe to grind, as Garcia Luna had helped imprison them.

"They are casualties of Felipe Calderon's war. They want to kill two birds with the same stone -- reduce their sentence and take revenge against the person they hate the most," de Castro told the court.

The prosecution's first witness, a former police officer nicknamed "El Grande" who later worked for Sinaloa, said he had witnessed former cartel 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 the money, Garcia Luna provided information about police operations, Villarreal Barragan testified.

Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in December 2019. He is also accused of lying when he applied for US citizenship in 2018.

The current Mexican government, which has requested Garcia Luna's extradition from the United States, has accused him of stealing more than $200 million in public funds.

His New York trial is expected to last eight weeks.