Genaro García Luna: Mexico’s ex-security minister convicted of bribes and drug smuggling

Genaro García Luna (AP)
Genaro García Luna (AP)

The most senior figure in Mexico’s war on drugs has been convicted by a US jury of taking millions in bribes and cocaine trafficking.

Genaro García Luna, once the country’s security minister, secretly aided the notorious Sinaloa violent drug cartel he was tasked with combating.

Under tight security, an anonymous New York federal court jury deliberated for three days before reaching a verdict.

The 54-year-old faces up to 20 years to life in prison.

He is the highest-ranking current or former Mexican official ever to be tried in the United States.

Prosecutors said the ex-head of Mexico’s equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2006 to 2012 accepted millions of dollars stuffed in briefcases delivered by members of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel.

Lawyers for García Luna, who denied the allegations, said the charges were based on lies from criminals who wanted to punish his drug-fighting efforts and to get lighter sentences for themselves.

He showed no apparent reaction on hearing the verdict.

The ex-cabinet minister - widely considered the architect of Mexico’s war on drugs – also shared secrets with the Sinaloa gang about its rivals and warned the group about law enforcement operations.

The case had political ramifications on both sides of the border.

Testimony aired a second-hand claim that former Mexican President Felipe Calderón sought to shield El Chapo’s gang against a major rival. Calderón called the allegation “absurd” and “an absolute lie.”

García Luna declined to testify but his wife, Linda Cristina Pereyra, took the stand and attempted to downplay their finances and lifestyle. The couple moved to Miami in 2012, when the Mexican administration changed and he became a consultant on security issues.

In her closing argument, US prosecutor Saritha Komatireddy said the Sinaloa cartel could not have built a “global cocaine empire” without García Luna’s aid.

“They paid the defendant bribes for protection,” she said. “And they got what they paid for.”

Jurors also learned that García Luna met with high-level US politicians and other officials, who considered him a key partner as Washington embarked on a $1.6 billion (£1.32bn) push to beef up Mexican law enforcement and stem the flow of drugs.

Jury foreperson hands the verdict to a courtroom deputy (REUTERS)
Jury foreperson hands the verdict to a courtroom deputy (REUTERS)

A roster of ex-smugglers and former Mexican officials testified that García Luna took millions of dollars in cartel cash, met with major traffickers and kept law enforcement at bay.

He was “the best investment they had,” said Sergio “El Grande” Villarreal Barragan, a former federal police officer who worked for cartels on the side and later as his main job. “We had absolutely no problems with our activities.”

He and other witnesses said that on García Luna’s watch, police tipped traffickers about upcoming raids, ensured that cocaine could pass freely through the country, colluded with cartels to raid rivals, and did other favours. One ex-smuggler said García Luna shared a document that reflected US law enforcement’s information about a huge cocaine shipment that was seized in Mexico around 2007.

“Nothing backs up what these killers, torturers, fraudsters, and epic narcotics traffickers claimed about Genaro García Luna,” defence lawyer César de Castro said in a closing argument.

García Luna was convicted on charges that include engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, which carries a potential sentencing range of 20 years to life in prison; he also was convicted of other charges, including cocaine distribution and cocaine conspiracy. His sentencing is set for June 27.

The trial was peppered with glimpses of such narco-extravagances as a private zoo with a lion, a hippo, white tigers and more. Jurors heard about tons of cocaine moving through Latin America in shipping containers, go-fast boats, private jets, planes, trains and even submarines.

And there were horrific reminders of the extraordinary violence those drugs fuelled.

Cesar De Castro, left, attorney for Genaro García Luna prepares to speak to the media after his client was found guilty (AP)
Cesar De Castro, left, attorney for Genaro García Luna prepares to speak to the media after his client was found guilty (AP)

Witnesses described cartel killings and kidnappings, allegedly including an abduction of García Luna himself. There was testimony about police officers being slaughtered and drug-world rivals being dismembered, skinned and dangled from bridges as cartel factions fought each other while buying police protection.

Others told of delivering García Luna to meetings with cartel leaders in settings ranging from a country house to a car wash and collecting boxes and bags full of drug money at safe houses, a warehouse full of cocaine and a fancy Mexico City restaurant.

One ex-smuggler, Óscar “El Lobo” Nava Valencia, said he personally heard García Luna and a then-top police official say they would “stand with us” during a meeting with Guzman’s associates amid a cartel civil war. That sit-down alone cost the drug gang $3 million (£2.47m), Nava Valencia said.

García Luna was arrested after testimony about his alleged graft emerged at Guzman’s high-profile trial about four years ago in the same New York courtroom.

The disgraced lawman also faces various Mexican arrest warrants and charges relating to government technology contracts, prison contracting and the bungled US “Fast and Furious” investigation into suspicions that guns were illegally making their way to Mexican drug cartels.

The Mexican government has also filed a civil suit against García Luna and his alleged associates and businesses in Florida, seeking to recover $700 million (£578m) that Mexico claims he trousered through corruption.