The US "deeply upset" Mexico closed the investigation by the ex-defense minister
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Mexico City's Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos speaks to the audience on the 50th anniversary of the Disaster Assistance Plan (Plan DN-III-E) in Mexico City
By Mark Hosenball and Anthony Esposito
WASHINGTON / MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The US Department of Justice (DOJ) said it was "deeply disappointed" with Mexico's decision to end the investigation into former Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos after Mexico's attorney general decided not to bring charges.
The decision, which Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador publicly supported on Friday, and a dump of documents by the Mexican government about US evidence against Cienfuegos threaten to strain the strategic security relationship between the US and Mexico.
On Friday, on instructions from Lopez Obrador, the State Department released a 751-page document containing the US evidence, including detailed logs of the alleged Blackberry (TSX 🙂 communications.
A DOJ spokesman late Friday described the decision to release confidential information with Mexico as deeply disappointing.
"Posting such information is in violation of the Mexico-United States Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty and questions whether the United States can continue to exchange information to aid Mexico's own criminal investigation," the DOJ said.
The Mexican State Department declined to comment on the DOJ's statement.
Analysts believe other investigations and lawsuits that Mexico may need US cooperation on could be at risk.
"Now they have created a great, great source of friction with the US and that could really hinder not only this investigation but other investigations that President (Lopez Obrador) is really interested in," said security analyst Alejandro Hope.
Cienfuegos, who served as a minister in the government of former President Enrique Pena Nieto from 2012 to 2018, was arrested at Los Angeles Airport in October on charges of collaborating with a powerful drug cartel.
The US Attorney's Office later dropped the case and returned it to Mexico for law enforcement. Lopez Obrador's government promised a thorough investigation into the case.
However, on Thursday, less than two months after Cienfuegos' return from the US, Mexico's attorney general concluded that he had no contact with members of the criminal organization and said they would not pursue any criminal charges.
The DOJ spokesman said the department "stands by its investigations and charges on the matter," that the documents show that the Cienfuegos case was not fabricated and that the information in the United States is complete by a proper US court order collected respect for the sovereignty of Mexico.
"A US federal grand jury analyzed this material and other evidence and concluded that the evidence backed the lawsuit against Cienfuegos."
However, some experts have questioned whether the records of Blackberry communications riddled with spelling errors published by Mexico were actually written by Cienfuegos.
"I will never defend Cienfuegos. The army has committed all kinds of atrocities during Enrique Pena Nieto's administration, but the DEA's" evidence "is frankly a joke," said John Ackerman, a constitutional law expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico on Twitter.
Ackerman suggested that the Blackberry News "was written by a narco or third or fourth grade soldier."
Security analyst Hope said the talks are not a smoking weapon against Cienfuegos, but neither are they entirely exonerating, adding that there is likely more evidence "out there that we don't know about".