Mexico bristles at U.S. for role in ex-army chief's arrest

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s government has expressed “profound discontent” to U.S. officials for not informing their Mexican counterparts of plans to arrest former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's then Defense Minister General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda attends a flag-raising ceremony honouring the victims of the September 1985 and 2017 earthquakes at Zocalo square in Mexico City, Mexico September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

Cienfuegos, who was head of the army from 2012 to 2018, was arrested earlier this month at Los Angeles International Airport on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering, and is being held in U.S. custody without bail.

The Mexican government said there had been no prior open probe of Cienfuegos in Mexico, where the army has long been regarded as a key pillar of stability.

U.S. legal documents published after his detention suggested that Cienfuegos had been under investigation for some years, and he was formally indicted with a New York court in August 2019.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018, said he learned of the investigation just a couple of weeks before Cienfuegos’ arrest.

Some officials had privately expressed outrage that the Mexican security apparatus was not kept in the loop by U.S. authorities. That has now become public.

“We’ve let the United States know our profound discontent that they did not share this information with our country,” Ebrard said during a regular government news conference.

The U.S. embassy in Mexico did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ebrard said he would provide more details of the case after the U.S. presidential election next week, in order to avoid saying anything that might interfere with the process.

Lopez Obrador, who pledged to root out corruption in the military after the arrest of Cienfuegos, characterized his case as an “isolated” event and defended the army’s role in Mexico.

“You can’t hold tabula rasa trials,” he said. “You can’t blame all members of the army, because it would be committing an injustice, and it would be undermining a very important institution for internal security.”

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and Raul Cortes; Editing by Dave Graham and Bill Berkrot