(CNN)Mexico's president on Friday defended his attorney general's exoneration of former defense minister Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who was arrested in Los Angeles last October on drug trafficking charges that were later dropped when he was returned to Mexico with a promise by local authorities to investigate him.
Mexican president defends decision not to press charges against ex-minister who was arrested on drug charges in US
President Andres Manuel López Obrador said he supports the attorney general's decision not to press charges against Cienfuegos and that dropping the case doesn't mean his government isn't committed to cracking down on cartels and corruption.
"Yesterday the attorney general's office decided that the accusations that were fabricated against Gen. Cienfuegos by the US anti-drug agency, the D.E.A., are unfounded," Lopez Obrador said. "The government endorses that and backs them, because we have said that there should be an end to impunity and with it corruption, but there also should not be reprisals," he said.
Cienfuegos, Mexico's defense minister from 2012 to 2018, was accused of taking bribes in exchange for permitting a cartel to operate in Mexico, US federal prosecutors said when he was arrested in October. He was charged in Brooklyn, New York City, with money laundering and narcotics conspiracy.
His arrest on Oct. 15 while on vacation in Los Angeles was the culmination of a years-long effort by Drug Enforcement Administration investigators and US prosecutors to uncover senior-level government officials who helped protect violent drug trafficking groups in Mexico.
The office of Mexico's attorney general on Thursday said in a statement that it "determined the non-exercise of criminal action, in favor of General Salvador Cienfuegos."
According to the statement, the investigation did not lead to any confirmation that Cienfuegos "had any encounter with the members of the criminal organization investigated by the North American authorities; nor did he carry out acts tending to protect said individuals."
The statement added there was no "evidence that he had used electronic equipment or means, or that he had issued any order to favor the criminal groups mentioned in this case."
But Cienfuegos' legal woes -- and diplomatic tensions over his case with Mexico's northern neighbor -- may not be over.
Following news of his exoneration, a spokesperson for the US Department of Justice, Nicole Navas Oxman, told CNN that "the United States reserves the right to recommence its prosecution of Cienfuegos if the Government of Mexico fails to do so."