Mexico's former defense minister arrested on federal drug charges in Los Angeles

Former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and former Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda watch the annual military parade at  Zocalo main square, in Mexico City, Mexico.

(CNN)A former Mexican defense minister was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport on drug and money laundering charges, accused of taking bribes in exchange for permitting a cartel known for wholesale violence to operate with impunity in Mexico, federal prosecutors said Friday.

General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Secretary of National Defense in Mexico from 2012 to 2018, has been indicted on four counts, including international heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana manufacture and distribution conspiracy, importation and distribution conspiracies, and conspiracy to launder narcotics proceeds, according to the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.
Federal prosecutors said Cienfuegos Zepeda allegedly assisted the H-2 cartel, which was previously led by the late Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, also known as "H-2," and based in Nayarit and Sinaloa, Mexico.
    "The defendant abused that public position to help the H-2 Cartel, an extremely violent Mexican drug trafficking organization, traffic thousands of kilograms of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States, including New York City," federal prosecutors said in a letter supporting a motion for a permanent order of detention against the defendant. "In exchange for bribe payments, he permitted the H-2 Cartel -- a cartel that routinely engaged in wholesale violence, including torture and murder -- to operate with impunity in Mexico."
    Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter Thursday night that he was informed of the detention by US Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau.
    The general appeared in federal court Friday and has been ordered to remain in US custody until a formal detention hearing is held for him next Tuesday. Prosecutors will ask for his transfer to New York. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    "It is a very regrettable fact that a former defense secretary is detained, accused of drug trafficking," Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, said during his daily press briefing on Friday.
    Falko Ernst, a Mexico-based security analyst for the Crisis Group, said the arrest was "a very stark reminder that the incorruptibility of the armed forces -- the myth that they're somehow protagonists of the 'war on drugs' and simultaneously uncompromised by it -- has little to do with on-the-ground realities."