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Mexico official arrested, accused of taking bribes from ‘El Chapo’

A former top Mexican security official has been arrested in the United States for allegedly taking millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel once headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Genaro García Luna, who served as secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012, is one of the highest-ranking Mexican officials ever indicted on drug trafficking charges in a U.S. court.

He was arrested Monday in Dallas and charged with three counts of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and one count of making false statements, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

U.S. officials said that, on at least two occasions, García accepted briefcases from cartel bagmen stuffed with at least $3 million in cash.

In exchange, they say, García provided the Sinaloa cartel with the safe passage of its drugs as well as details about law enforcement investigations into the group and information about rival cartels.

The indictment says the bribery occurred sometime after 2001, the year García became the head of the Federal Investigation Agency under newly elected President Vicente Fox.

García went on to become the public face of the drug war launched by President Felipe Calderón in 2006.

He worked closely with U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officials and was tasked with building a new federal police force. He made a show of purging officers he claimed were corrupt, saying in 2017 that every cop in Mexico “is obliged to carry out his post with legality, honesty and efficiency.”

But he faced scrutiny for his own behavior.

U.S. officials said that by the time García moved to the United States in 2012, he had amassed a personal fortune of millions of dollars. Prominent Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández took note of his growing wealth and published a book in 2010 alleging that García accepted bribes in exchange for protecting the Sinaloa cartel.

That claim emerged again during Guzman’s drug trafficking and murder trial last year.

Former cartel member Jesus Zambada García testified that he twice met García Luna in a restaurant and gave him a briefcase filled with cash.

Zambada said the first payoff occurred in 2005, when García was the head of the Federal Investigation Agency, and again the following year, when García had been promoted to secretary of public security.

García has denied claims that he was corrupt.

His arrest is a disaster for Calderón, who vowed to weaken the country’s drug cartels by professionalizing the police and sending soldiers into the streets to attack them.

“It is a massive blow for Calderón,” said Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst. “It strips away any authority he had left to speak about security matters.”

Bravo described García’s arrest as a boon to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has criticized Calderón‘s militarized security strategy as only increasing violence in Mexico and has frequently described his predecessors as corrupt.

“This is the U.S. going after Calderón‘s public security secretary,” Bravo said. “It’s quite a gift.”