Mexico's Secretary of Public Safety Genaro García Luna attends a news conference on the sidelines of an American Police Community meeting in Mexico City, Oct. 8, 2010. Image Credit: AP

New York- A former top law enforcement official who oversaw Mexico’s efforts to combat narcotics trafficking was convicted Tuesday of taking millions in bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Genaro Garca Luna, who headed the equivalent of the FBI in Mexico, was charged in US District Court in Brooklyn in 2019 with acting as an enabler for the cartel, which is notorious for engaging in rampant violence to keep its operation running.

After a month-long trial that began in January, a jury found Garca Luna guilty on all five counts in an indictment that included his alleged involvement in an ongoing criminal enterprise, international cocaine distribution and drug-related conspiracies. He faces a minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for June 27.

Assistant US Attorney Saritha Komatireddy said in closing statements that Garca Luna was “a smart, ambitious, powerful and self-serving politician” who accepted millions of dollars “from the very people he was supposed to prosecute.”

Garca Luna, 54, took bribe money “in briefcases, in duffel bags, in boxes full of cash,” Komatireddy said. He also hand-delivered cocaine for the organisation, tipped them off to anticipated law enforcement actions, and helped arrest and kill members of rival cartels.

Garca Luna was a point of contact for officials in the US who dealt with Mexico in efforts to thwart narcotics trafficking. He ran the Federal Investigation Agency from 2001 to 2005 and was the country’s secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012.

During the trial, 25 witnesses were called by the prosecution — including several high-level members of the Sinaloa organisation, whose leader was tried and convicted in the same US courthouse in 2019.

“These witnesses were close to the top,” Komatireddy said to jurors. “High up enough to know about the cartel’s most sensitive and important government relationships, including its relationship with the defendant.”

Garca Luna’s attorney, Cesar de Castro, said the verdict was a disappointment and said the ex-official “will continue to do everything he can to clear his good name.” De Castro told jurors the prosecution’s case relied entirely on the testimony of criminals. “Nothing backs up what these killers, torturers, fraudsters, and epic narcotics traffickers claimed about Genaro Garca Luna,” he said during closing arguments.

De Castro said the prosecution’s witnesses were motivated by the promise of leniency in their own legal matters and the possibility of starting new lives in the US with the government’s assistance.

In drug cases, prosecutors frequently rely on the testimony of cooperating witnesses who are also involved in the criminal activity.

Brooklyn US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement that Garca Luna will “live the rest of his days having been revealed as a traitor to his country and to the honest members of law enforcement who risked their lives to dismantle drug cartels.”

US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar tweeted that the verdict “demonstrates how our relentless pursuit for justice is stronger than the [transnational criminal organisations’] attempts to wrest good governance away from the people who deserve it.”

The conviction comes as a vast amount of Mexican territory is controlled by organised crime groups that fight each other for influence. Homicides have hovered over 30,000 per year since 2019, during President Andrs Manuel Lpez Obrador’s tenure, according to Mexico’s crime statistics.

A spokesman for Lpez Obrador called Garca Luna a “former squire” of former president Felipe Caldern in a tweet Tuesday after the verdict.

While the trial was largely focused on Garca Luna’s ties to violent traffickers, it is clear from recent history that US counternarcotics strategy in Mexico has been marred by failure. In recent years, the Sinaloa cartel has developed the capacity to manufacture and traffic millions of doses of fentanyl every year.

Lpez Obrador has been a frequent critic of US attempts to curb drug trafficking and Garca Luna’s conviction will for some cast doubt on the effectiveness of previous US efforts. Last month, Lpez Obrador said in a news conference that links between Garca Luna and US authorities suggested that US intelligence agencies “need a shake up, a review.”

US officials have said much of the blame rests with Mexico for not being more aggressive to stem the flow of drugs.

Garca Luna’s conviction follows the controversial US case against Salvador Cienfuegos, Mexico’s former defence minister. Cienfuegos was arrested in 2020 in Los Angeles on bribery and drug trafficking charges, but after pressure from Lpez Obrador, he was released and returned to Mexico, where he lives as a free man.