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article imageDrug kingpin Guzman's trial puts spotlight on Mexican corruption

By Yussel GONZALEZ (AFP)     Nov 22, 2018 in World

Tales of millions of dollars of bribe money stuffed in suitcases -- told during the trial of notorious Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman -- have shone the spotlight on corruption in the country, which experts say is endemic.

Government informant Jesus Zambada, the brother of Guzman's partner at the head of the notorious Sinaloa cartel, Ismael Zambada, told a court in New York that Guzman paid bribes to prosecutors, police, soldiers and even Interpol.

On Tuesday, Jesus Zambada alleged from 2005-2006 Guzman bribed former Mexican public security minister, Genaro Garcia Luna with six to eight million dollars stuffed into two suitcases and hand delivered at a restaurant.

Guzman's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman even claimed that ex-president Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) and his successor, the incumbent Enrique Pena Nieto, took bribes from the Sinaloa cartel, accusations both strongly deny.

Although analysts claim it is difficult to pay bribes to presidents or the top federal officials, corruption amongst local authorities is much more common.

"Corruption at state and municipal level is endemic," former US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Mike Vigil told AFP.

In this photo from 2012  former Mexican president Felipe Calderon (L) hands over the national flag t...
In this photo from 2012, former Mexican president Felipe Calderon (L) hands over the national flag to his successor Enrique Pena Nieto during their transition ceremony
HO, MEXICAN PRESIDENCY/AFP

"They control the state police and the municipal police, hence the mafiosos go to them and pay them to protect their shipments."

Guzman is accused of 11 offenses ranging from drug trafficking to money laundering -- including the smuggling of 155 tons of cocaine into the US over 25 years.

If found guilty he will likely spend the rest of his life in a maximum security US prison.

- Protection by authorities -

Accusations of state authorities, principally governors, receiving bribes from criminal organizations or colluding with drug-traffickers are nothing new.

"There are no traffickers that don't have governmental cover. For this type of crime you need to be protected by authorities, soldiers, the navy, police and, of course, officials," said journalist and author of books on drug trafficking, Jose Reveles.

Former Quintana Roo state governor Mario Villanueva  pictured here in 2017  was sentenced to 22 year...
Former Quintana Roo state governor Mario Villanueva, pictured here in 2017, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for ties with drug trafficking
HO, Attorney General's Office/AFP

One of the best known cases is that of Mario Villanueva, governor of Quintana Roo state from 1993-99, who is serving a long prison sentence over drug trafficking links.

Another is that of Tomas Yarrington, the former governor of violent Tamaulipas state in Mexico's northeast, who was extradited to the United States on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and banking fraud.

His successor, Eugenio Hernandez, is being held in a Tamaulipas cell, accused of embezzlement and illicit enrichment.

- 'False and reckless' -

As for the accusations against Calderon and Pena Nieto, these have been met with widespread skepticism, as well as their own emphatic denials.

"The assertions made by the lawyer of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman are absolutely false and reckless," said Calderon on Twitter, while Pena Nieto's government spokesman tweeted that the current president was the one who had "pursued, captured and extradited" Guzman to the US.

"El Chapo" Guzman Loera's .38 Super pistol encrusted with diamonds on the handle and ...
"El Chapo" Guzman Loera's .38 Super pistol encrusted with diamonds on the handle and his initials "JGL", which was used as an exhibit November 19th, 2018 by government prosecutors to the jury at Guzman's trial in Brooklyn federal court
BROOKLYN FEDERAL COURT, BROOKLYN FEDERAL COURT/AFP

For security analyst Alejandro Hope, if a president wants to get rich, "there's no sense in opting for the one form of corruption that matters to the United States, which is receiving drug trafficking money."

In any case, proving the payment of bribes is always going to be difficult, said Vigil, because "they pay in cash and it's not like they sign a receipt."

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