Ex-Mexico security chief long haunted by corruption claims

Mexico's Secretary of Public Safety Genaro Garcia Luna attends a press conference on the sidelines of an American Police Community meeting in Mexico City, Oct. 8, 2010. (AP/ File Photo)
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Updated 11 December 2019

Ex-Mexico security chief long haunted by corruption claims

  • Luna was charged in federal court in New York with three counts of trafficking cocaine and one count of making false statements
  • The agents reported that García Luna was taken to meet with Arturo Beltran Lleyva, one of the cartel’s leaders, Reveles said. García Luna denied all of it

MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s former security chief was dogged by so many allegations of corruption and wrongdoing for so long that some said it was only a matter of time before he would be arrested.
What amazed some was that it took so long, and that Genaro García Luna’s arrest this week came on US soil rather than in Mexico.
García Luna, 51, who left the security post nearly a decade ago, was charged in federal court in New York with three counts of trafficking cocaine and one count of making false statements. He was arrested Monday outside Dallas and at his initial appearance Tuesday his bail hearing was set for Dec. 17. He moved to the US in 2012 and has been living in Florida.
“This wasn’t a surprise,” said Samuel González, who served as Mexico’s chief organized crime prosecutor in a prior administration. González said he turned down offers to work with García Luna in the 2000s, noting that “it wasn’t a question of if, but rather when” Garcia Luna would be charged.
García Luna was public safety secretary in President Felipe Calderon’s Cabinet from 2006 to 2012, playing a key role in setting the government’s security strategy during some of the worst and most embarrassing moments of bloody drug war that resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 people and tens of thousands more missing.
Calderon tweeted Tuesday night that he knew nothing about the accusations against his former security chief. He said his security policy was not made by any one official and was marked by a high level of cooperation with the US He said if the allegations were proven true, it would represent a serious violation of the trust placed in Garcia Luna.
On Wednesday morning, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has made eradicating corruption a pillar of his administration, said his government would assist the US with its case in any way possible. He said banks had already been asked to provide financial information for the Attorney General’s Office.
“It reaffirms that the country’s principle problem was corruption,” Lopez Obrador said. “Imagine the authorities responsible for security bribed. Now what guarantee is there for citizens if there is no boundary between authorities and criminals? If authorities are working for criminals there is no possibility of guaranteeing peace and tranquility.”
As security chief, García Luna was widely feared and in charge of Mexico’s federal police and the rest of the civilian security apparatus, giving him unrivaled access to intelligence about law enforcement operations and investigations that US prosecutors say he shared with the Sinaloa cartel. Calderon’s administration was criticized at the time by many who argued it was not as aggressive against the Sinaloa cartel as it was against the gang’s rivals.
Before joining Calderon’s government, García Luna led Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI, the Federal Investigative Agency, under President Vicente Fox.
For José Reveles, a journalist and author of several books on organized crime, García Luna was “the omnipotent cop of Vicente Fox and later Felipe Calderon.” He was an official few dared to clash with, Reveles added, and the questions that have arisen about him are numerous.
Reveles said that in 2005, during the Fox administration, agents from the Federal Investigative Agency “were capturing Zetas (members of a rival cartel) and turning them over to the Sinaloa cartel.” Anti-drug prosecutor Santiago Vasconcelos made that accusation public, but later died in a plane crash.
In December of that year, García Luna’s agents detained French citizen Florence Cassez and held her illegally until they could stage a media event. She was paraded before TV cameras and forced to participate in a staged, televised reenactment of her capture. She was held for seven years on kidnapping charges, but was released and became a cause celebre in her homeland.
In 2008, banners began appearing across the country claiming García Luna was working for the Sinaloa cartel.
Reveles, who was then covering the Congress and had access to documents, said that in 2008 Mexican lawmakers took closed-door testimony from federal agents that García Luna’s convoy had been intercepted in the state of Morelos by members of the Beltran Leyva cartel, which had broken from the Sinaola cartel. The agents reported that García Luna was taken to meet with Arturo Beltran Lleyva, one of the cartel’s leaders, Reveles said. García Luna denied all of it.
A 2011 Televisa telenovela called “The Team” that portrayed federal police as crime-fighting heroes was allegedly the brainchild of García Luna and financed with government money. The honest, well-trained and brave officers portrayed on the show were at odds with the public’s longstanding perception of Mexico’s police.
In 2012, arrested US drug gang leader Édgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “La Barbie,” claimed in an open letter that he had paid off García Luna.
Also in 2012, rife drug corruption in the federal police force burst into the open when one federal officer opened fire on his colleagues at Mexico City’s international airport.
And finally, in 2012, 14 Mexican agents under Garcia Luna’s command opened fire on an SUV carrying two US CIA agents near Mexico City after Mexican officials claimed their agents mistook the Americans’ vehicle for one driven by gang members.
Despite all that, Mexico security analyst Alejandro Hope noted, the US government apparently vetted Garcia Luna, praised the drug busts he carried out and allowed him to live in the United States for about seven years before charging him.
“Why now?” Hope asked.
While the accusations have long been out there, it was unclear whether the timing of the charges could be explained by some unknown deal within the complex US-Mexico relationship on drug trafficking or if it stemmed from testimony in the US trial of notorious drug boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Guzmán was tried in New York in 2018. At his trial, former cartel member Jesus Zambada testified that he personally made at least $6 million in hidden payments to García Luna on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, in 2005-2007.
“I believe he enriched himself, but I don’t know if it was from that (drug cartel bribes),” Hope said.
If so, it was extreme arrogance or stupidity, Hope said. He said there are a lot of ways a Cabinet secretary with budget authority and influence could enrich himself, but just one way that would be guaranteed to draw the ire of the US government.
US authorities said Tuesday that García Luna had amassed a fortune of millions, well beyond what a public servant could expect to earn.
González, the former prosecutor, said that “this issue was obvious.”
He added, “You can’t hide money that easily.”

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

Updated 4 min 22 sec ago

Tehran mayor sees ‘threat’ in Iranians’ dissatisfaction

  • The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year

TEHRAN: Iran’s low voter turnout reflects a wider malaise in a country long buckling under sanctions and more recently also hit hard by the coronavirus, spelling “a threat for everyone,” Tehran’s mayor Pirouz Hanachi told AFP.

“The turnout at the ballot box is a sign of people’s satisfaction level,” said Hanachi, mayor of Iran’s political and business center and largest city, with more than 8 million people.

“When there is dissatisfaction with the government or the state, it then reaches everyone and that includes the municipality too,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Iran has suffered the double blow of a sharp economic downturn caused by US economic sanctions over its contested nuclear program, and the region’s most deadly COVID-19 outbreak.

Reformists allied with moderate President Hassan Rouhani lost their parliamentary majority in a landslide conservative victory in February, in a major setback ahead of presidential elections next year.

Voter turnout hit a historic low of less than 43 percent in the February polls after thousands of reformist candidates were barred from running by the Islamic republic’s powerful Guardian Council.

Such voter fatigue “can be a threat for everyone, not just reformists or conservatives,” warned the mayor, a veteran public servant with a background in urban development who is tied to the reformist camp.

The conservative resurgence reflects dissatisfaction with the Rouhani camp that had sought reengagement with the West and the reward of economic benefits — hopes that were dashed when US President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal and reimposed crippling sanctions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts Iran’s economy will shrink by 6 percent this year.

“We’re doing our best, but our situation is not a normal one,” Hanachi said. “We are under sanctions and in a tough economic situation.”

As he spoke in his town hall office, the shouts of angry garbage truck drivers echoed from the street outside, complaining they had not received pay or pensions for months.

The mayor downplayed the small rally as the kind of event that could happen in “a municipality in any other country,” adding that the men were employed not by the city itself but by contractors.

Iran’s fragile economy, increasingly cut off from international trade and deprived of crucial oil revenues, took another major blow when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in late February.

Since then the outbreak has killed more than 12,000 people and infected over 248,000, with daily fatalities reaching a record of 200 early this week, according to official figures.

A temporary shutdown of the economy in recent months and closed borders sharply reduced non-oil exports, Iran’s increasingly important lifeline.

This accelerated the plunge of the Iranian rial against the US dollar, threatening to further stoke an already high inflation rate.

In just one impact, said Hanachi, the Teheran municipality lost 2 trillion rial ($9 million) because of sharply reduced demand for public transport in recent months.

As many Tehran residents got back into their cars to avoid tightly packed subways and buses, this has done nothing to help solve Tehran’s long-standing air pollution issue.

Tehran has had only 15 “clean” air quality days since the March 20 Persian New Year, according to the municipality.

One of Hanachi’s tasks is to fight both the virus and air pollution — a tough juggling act as car travel is safer for individuals but also worsens the smog that often cloaks the capital.

The mayor said he worried that, after restrictions on car travel were reimposed in May to reduce air pollution, subways are once again packed during peak hours, as is the bustling city center.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, which is now crowded with shoppers, warned Hanachi, “can become a focal point for the epidemic.”