Did 'Chapo' really pay Mexico's ex-president US$100m?

Friday, January 18, 2019

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MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AFP) — Did the world's most famous drug lord really pay Mexico's ex-president a US$100-million bribe not to arrest him?

The claim, made by a witness Tuesday at the trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, stretches credibility, experts say — starting with the fact that it would take a truck to transport that much cash.

Colombian drug trafficker-turned-state witness Alex Cifuentes surprised the courtroom in New York — and caused a firestorm of controversy in Mexico — when he alleged that “El Chapo” had paid the bribe to then-president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto in 2012.

But while there is no doubt that Mexico is awash in all the ingredients of the story — drug money, corrupt officials, powerful kingpins — there are many reasons to doubt it, according to people who know the murky nexus of politics and narcotics.

“It would have been the biggest bribe in all of history. I've been with DEA (US Drug Enforcement Administration) for 31 years, I've seen bribes of millions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of dollars, but certainly not a bribe like that,” said Mike Vigil, former head of international operations for the DEA.

“Once when I was working undercover in Panama, I borrowed US$1 million from the CIA to flash to these drug traffickers from Bolivia and Colombia. They were all in US$100 bills, and I needed a huge suitcase to put that stuff in. So you would have needed a truck for US$100 million. What did they do, drive up... and give it to the president?”

After Cifuentes made the accusation, Pena Nieto's supporters rushed to argue that the former president (2012-2018) was the one who made sure “El Chapo” was re-arrested after his brazen prison escape in 2015, then extradited to the United States.

Partisan politics aside, there is something to that argument, Vigil said.

“If I had taken a bribe from Chapo Guzman, the last thing I would have done is extradite him to the United States,” he told AFP.

“Would you have extradited Chapo Guzman if you had taken money from him? He would come here (to the US) and start immediately making allegations against you.”

There are several reasons to question Cifuentes's story.

For one thing, he is testifying as part of a plea deal, in exchange for a softer sentence.

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