Sinaloa Cartel kingpin charges DEA gave him “carte blanche”

Last month, Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla AKA “El Mayito”—the son of Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Ismael Zambada AKA “El Mayo”—filed pleadings in a Chicago federal court accusing the US Justice Department of giving the cartel “carte blanche to continue to smuggle tons of illicit drugs into Chicago and the rest of the United States.” Zambada’s pleadings claim that protection included promises to be kept apprised of US and Mexican government investigations close to the “home territories” of cartel leaders so they “could take appropriate actions to evade investigators”—even as the US had indictments, extradition requests, and rewards for the apprehension of the top Sinaloa Cartel leadership.

The elder Zambada is said to be the right-hand man of Mexico’s most wanted criminal, Joaquín Guzmán AKA “El Chapo”—top boss of the Sinaloa Cartel. Regarded as a major trafficker in his own right, “El Mayito” was arrested in Mexico City in late 2009, and extradited to the US to stand trial on charges of being the “logistical coordinator” for the cartel, specifically overseeing an operation that shipped “multi-ton quantities of cocaine” into the states, using transport methods from Boeing 747 cargo aircraft to tractor-trailers. He is now behind bars awaiting trial in Chicago. Court documents filed by his lawyers in late July argue that a deal was struck between the DEA and cartel attorney Humberto Loya in 1998, granting top cartel chiefs immunity for providing information about their rivals. Zambada claims the agreement was “known and approved” by the Justice Department and is seeking to have all charges against him dropped. He says he took over from Loya as “primary liaison on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel with the United States government” in 2008.

Zambada claims to have met with regional DEA directors for Latin America and Mexico at a hotel in downtown Mexico City, and received guarantees of his immunity from prosecution, shortly before his arrest. Zambada “was specifically told that he would receive immunity, not only under Loya’s prior agreement, but as an agreement with him personally and approved at the highest levels of the government,” his counsel said. (IPS, Aug. 9; Reuters, Aug. 6; AHN, Aug. 3)

Zambada filed notice with the federal court in March that he would assert that he had been working “on behalf of” the DEA, the FBI and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).The allegations will doubtless fuel widespread claims in Mexico that the government is tilting to the Sinaloa Cartel in the ultra-violent drug wars.

See our last post on Mexico’s cartel wars.

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