Mexico's Former President Enrique Pena Nieto 'Took $100m Bribe From El Chapo'
By Harriet Alexander (Telegraph) -- Mexico’s former president took a $100 million (£78m) bribe from drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the cartel leader’s secretary has told a New York courtroom.
Enrique Peña Nieto, who was president from 2012 until December, has always vehemently denied being in cahoots with the cartels.
But Alex Cifuentes, a Colombian who was Guzman’s right-hand man until his 2013 capture, told the court that the money was delivered around the time of Mr Peña Nieto’s inauguration, via an intermediary while Guzman was on the run.
On trial in federal court in Brooklyn since November , Guzman, 61, was extradited to the United States in January 2017 to face charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the country as leader of the cartel.
Cifuentes, 50, testified that he had told US prosecutors that it was Mr Pena Nieto who initiated the conversation with Guzman, asking initially for $250 million. A deal was struck and the sum reduced to $100 million, the cartel operative said.
He also said testified that Guzman once told him that he had received a message from Mr Pena Nieto saying that he did not have to live in hiding anymore.
A year ago, while being debriefed by US prosecutors in a bid to reduce his own sentence, Cifuentes said “that the president of Mexico had contacted Mr Guzmán,” and that “the message was Mr Guzmán didn’t have to stay hidden.”
He told the court on Tuesday: “That’s exactly what Mr Guzman said to me. They wanted to work with him.”
Mr Peña Nieto has not responded to Tuesday's accusations, but his spokesman rubbished previous claims as "completely false and defamatory," pointing out that it was his government which "pursued, captured and extradited the criminal Joaquin Guzman Loera."
Mexicans have long suspected that governments tacitly support one cartel over the other, in a bid to create a “pax mafia” and have one dominant group rather than an all-out war.
Cifuentes was on the stand again on Wednesday – the latest in around a dozen former cartel operatives, FBI agents and rivals who have testified against Guzman.
Jesus Zambada, another cartel member, testified in November that he paid a multimillion dollar bribe to an aide of current Mexican president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, in 2005.
The aide was not named but later Gabriel Regino, head of security in Mexico City when Mr Lopez Obrador was mayor, wrote on Twitter that an accusation of bribery had emerged against him in the trial but was false.
Zambada also said he paid off the public security secretary for former president Felipe Calderon, Genaro Garcia Luna – handing over suitcases containing at least $3 million. García Luna called the accusations “lies, defamation and perjury.”
Guzman’s lawyers have set out to downplay the cartel leader’s significance, presenting him not as an all-powerful capo but merely a figure in a web of corruption so immense it ensnared the two former and current presidents.
At the start of the trial, one of Guzman’s lawyers, Jeffrey Lichtman indicated that jurors would hear testimony about bribes paid to both Mr Pena Nieto and Mr Calderon, and suggested Guzman was the victim of a conspiracy by government officials and his narco-rivals to destroy him.
At the time, Mr Calderon dismissed the allegations as “absolutely false and reckless,” and the judge in the case, Brian Cogan, reprimanded Mr Lichtman, saying some of it included “inadmissible hearsay” about corruption.
“Your opening statement handed out a promissory note that your case is not going to cash,” the judge said.
Mr Regino, who denied collaboration with the cartel at the end of last year, told The Telegraph that he did not take seriously the accusations against Mr Pena Nieto, dismissing it as being without sufficient detail and impossible to believe.
"The defence strategy is to generate doubt in the jury as to whether Joaquin is a leader in the cartel," he said.
"They're trying to present the idea of a corrupt government, which has created this mythical leader - and this government also wants to show the US they are doing something about it.
"But this point about $100 million is far to vague to be believed. How was the money handed over? Where? And why? Lichtman didn't ask, because he didn't want his own witness to discredit himself."]