The trial against the former Secretary of Public Security of Mexico, Genaro Garcia Luna, entered its final stretch and now all that remains is for the jury to decide if it considers him guilty or innocent of the five crimes that he is accused of, and that are summarized in an alleged complicity with the Sinaloa Cartel.
It has been an express process that lasted even less than expected. On January 11, when the trial began with jury selection, it was estimated to take at least two months.
In the end, just over a month was enough for the 12 members of the jury (seven women and five men) to listen to the 26 witnesses called by the prosecution and a single witness from the defense: Linda Cristina Pereyra, wife of Garcia Luna.
The defendant, meanwhile, refused to make use of his right to refute the accusations.
“The evidence that we have shown you so far proves that Genaro Garcia Luna was an intelligent, powerful and ambitious official and at the same time a key ally and assistant to the Sinaloa Cartel.” Prosecutor Saritha Komatireddy began her final arguments with that sentence.
– Arturo Angel (@arturoangel20) February 15, 2023
Thus, the voice of Garcia Luna was not heard in the Federal Court of the Eastern District in Brooklyn, which evaporated the rumors that there were about the possibility that he would confess and involve his former bosses, former presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon, in crimes.
Anyway, the trial was historicsince whoever was one of the most powerful officials in Mexico for two six-year terms had to sit on the defendant’s bench for the first time.
At 54 years old, Garcia Luna faces five accusations: three for international conspiracy to export cocaine and other drugs to the US through bribes paid by the Sinaloa Cartel; another for organized crime and one more, for having lied to a federal immigration agent in 2018.
According to the US State Department, the former official began receiving multi-million dollar bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel in 2001when Fox appointed him as head of the Federal Investigation Agency, and continued his criminal practices during the six-year term of his friend Calderon, who appointed him Secretary of Public Security.
If the jury finds you guilty, you risk a sentence ranging from 10 years in prison to life in prison.
If they consider you innocent, you will be free of these charges, but you will have to face another trial that the Mexican Government is carrying out against you in Miami courts for the alleged diversion of public resources for an amount of 745 million dollars.
The case began on December 9, 2019, the day that the unexpected arrest of Garcia Luna shook Mexican politics. The capture took place in Texas, since, as soon as the Calderon government ended, the former official settled in the US, where he continued to amass a fortune as a security services businessman.
During the three years that the US justice system delayed in initiating the trial, the former secretary remained in custody. The selection of jurors began on January 11, but the first hearing only took place on the 23rd.
From that day, each day was marked by tension.
#Garcialuna: Prosecutor Saritha Komatireddy has been emphatic that she wants the testimonies of former drug traffickers to be analyzed for the credibility of the story itself, not for the context of who is telling it: “I am not asking them to like them. They are criminals.” pic.twitter.com/7ABGauZ0DI
— Angel Hernandez Diaz (@AngelenHD) February 15, 2023
The court was headed by the judge Brian Cogan, the same one that in 2019 sentenced the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin ‘el Chapo’ Guzman, to life imprisonment. The team of five prosecutors was led by Breon Peace. And the defense was led by the lawyer Cesar de Castro.
Initially, there was speculation that the “star witness” was Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias ‘La Barbie’, a bloody hitman who was sentenced to 49 years in prison, who claimed to be an informant for US agencies and who, according to journalistic versions, provided information for the capture of ‘Chapo’.
Rumors also abounded about a possible presentation of Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of ‘Chapo’, who at the end of 2021 was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to the crimes of drug trafficking and money laundering.
However, neither she nor “Barbie” were finally summoned to the trial against Garcia Luna.
The prosecution presented 26 witnesses, nine of whom worked for Mexican cartels. And yes, there was a “star witness”: Jesus ‘el Rey’ Zambadabrother of Ismael ‘el Mayo’ Zambada, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Garcia Luna’s lawyer wanted to induce the witness Jesus Rey Zambada to assume that he gave money to Lopez Obrador’s campaign through Gabriel Regino, Zamba denies it, says it was false. The only one I gave money to was Garcia Luna, 5 million dollars. So or clearer. pic.twitter.com/LMBG7hiKnH
— Cesar Gutierrez Priego MR (@cesargutipri) February 14, 2023
Zambada’s statement had extra weight because he was part of the central structure of the Sinaloa Cartel. That is to say, that he knew the financial management of the organization and the list of corrupt officials.
In his statement, he ratified what he had already said in other processes: that he himself gave Garcia Luna five million dollars in bribes in exchange for protecting the criminal organization.
The ‘Mayo’ brother was arrested in Mexico in 2008. Four years later, he was extradited to the US, where he signed a collaboration agreement that allowed him to become one of the key witnesses in the trial against ‘the Chapo’. He was later released and his location was kept in the strictest secrecy until February 13 when he testified against Garcia Luna.
With Zambada, there were three drug traffickers who claimed to have given him fortunes in cash to the ex-secretary The first was Sergio Villarreal, alias “el Grande”, who revealed that Garcia Luna received between one and three million dollars a month and that he once had to give him one of those bribes. Later, Oscar Nava Valencia, “the Wolf,” said that he personally gave him 7.5 million dollars.
Garcia Luna’s defense tried to discredit these testimonies by arguing that the three are convicted criminals seeking benefits from the US authorities, either reduced sentences or, outright, freedom and residence permits.
The lawyers also argued that none provided proof of paymentsalthough from the beginning of the trial Judge Cogan admitted that this would be difficult because there is usually no record of bribes.
Thus, the jury must evaluate whether it considers that the testimonies are solid enough or not.
The trial against Garcia Luna has represented a scandal in itself, since it put the magnifying glass on the corruption of Mexican politics. The former secretary is the highest-ranking official who has had to undergo such a process.
Since he was arrested, criticism and suspicions abounded towards the former presidents who appointed him to strategic Security positions. Attention was paid in particular to Calderon, who at the beginning of his government launched a war against drug trafficking that Garcia Luna was left in charge of.
But, according to the US government, instead of fighting drug traffickers, Garcia Luna sided with them.
The relationship between Calderon and Garcia Luna was always close. For this reason, part of the expectation of the trial was placed on the possibility that the former secretary decided to confess guilty and splashed his former boss.
Although the defendant chose to remain silent, Calderon was involved with organized crime for the first time in court.
The person responsible was the former prosecutor of Nayarit, Edgar Veytia, who sparked a strong controversy by declaring that, in 2011, the then governor of this state, Ney Gonzalez, told him that Garcia Luna and Calderon gave the order to protect the Sinaloa Cartela complaint that for decades had been made in multiple journalistic investigations.
Garcia Luna’s lawyers disqualified the accusation, again, for lack of evidence and because the prosecutor was not a direct witness to Calderon’s alleged order. In addition, Veytia is convicted in the US for drug trafficking and collaborated in the trial to shorten the 20-year prison sentence imposed on him.
The criminal history of the former prosecutor, drug trafficker and witness did not stop the scandal. On the contrary. His complaint had international repercussions, forcing Calderon to respond publicly. As he has done in recent years, the former president denied any relationship with drug trafficking.
Beyond the distrust generated by the statements of convicted drug traffickers, what is a fact is that, as they have affirmed in the trial, during the Calderon government and with Garcia Luna as Secretary of Security, the Sinaloa Cartel grew, became strengthened and became the most important criminal organization in America and one of the most powerful in the world.
This explains why, according to a survey carried out in Mexico by the consulting firm Eknoll, 84% of the people interviewed consider that Calderon should be investigated for alleged links to drug trafficking.
In the Garcia Luna trial, all the testimonies agree that the governments of @VicenteFoxQue and @FelipeCalderon They sold protection to the Sinaloa cartel. It has been shown that the PAN members made drug governments. What is appropriate is to promote the trials of Fox and Calderon. pic.twitter.com/OWsk0JQEOL
— Rafael Barajas (@fisgonmonero) February 14, 2023
Another controversy left by the trial was the renewed suspicion of corruption that has always covered part of Mexican journalism.
In this case, the scandal affected El Universal, a hundred-year-old newspaper and part of the traditional press and currently in opposition to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Hector Villarreal, former Coahuila finance secretary, affirmed in court that the government of this state paid bribes for 25 million dollars a month to El Universal to publish favorable information about Garcia Luna and the Secretary of Security.
The newspaper denied the accusations in several editorials. As happened to the witnesses throughout the trial, the deponent’s problem was the lack of evidence, since he presented invoices for services that the newspaper allegedly did not provide and that, according to him, were only issued to justify the large expenses.
Lopez Obrador echoed the controversy and took the opportunity to reiterate his criticism of the Mexican press, considering that it was not covering the trial against Garcia Luna as it should despite its importance.
For this reason, he decided to incorporate a daily trial report into his morning conference. Although he insistently criticized the corruption of his predecessors, the president asked to wait for the American justice to deliver his verdict.