Mexican ex-security minister hit with new charge in U.S. corruption case

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Former top Mexican security official Genaro Garcia Luna, accused in the United States of taking bribes to help a top drug gang operate freely, has been hit with a new charge that could add 20 years to his sentence if convicted, prosecutors said Thursday.

Mexico's Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna attends a meeting with the Human Rights commission at the Senate in Mexico City November 29, 2012. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo (MEXICO - Tags: POLITICS HEADSHOT)

Garcia Luna, a minister during the term of former President Felipe Calderon, now faces a charge of “engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise,” the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said.

In January, Garcia Luna pleaded not guilty to accusations of drug trafficking conspiracy and making false statements.

Two former law enforcement officials who worked under Garcia Luna were also each charged with three counts of cocaine trafficking, the DOJ said on Thursday.

Luis Cardenas Palomino, 51, and Ramon Pequeno Garcia, 53, are both at large.

“In exchange for multimillion-dollar bribes, the defendants allegedly permitted the Sinaloa Cartel to operate with impunity in Mexico,” the DOJ said in a statement.

Cesar De Castro, Garcia Luna’s lawyer listed in court filings, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Garcia Luna, 51, whose case is in federal court in New York, and his two ex-officers are accused of having used their high-ranking posts to allow illegal drug trafficking.

The trio is also suspected of providing sensitive information to the cartel and its rivals to facilitate the crimes.

Prosecutors say the defendants put officials in power in certain areas controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel, once led by convicted kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

The cartel delivered bribes to Garcia Luna in briefcases on at least two occasions, according to prosecutors.

If convicted, the three former officials could face up to life in prison.

The new charge against Garcia Luna could trigger a minimum 20 years behind bars. He had previously been facing a minimum sentence of 10 years.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador last May urged U.S. authorities to probe Garcia Luna’s case from within both governments.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and David Alire Garcia in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lincoln Feast.