Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna. Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

With the selection of the jury, the trial of former Mexican Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna began on the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 17, in a U.S. federal court in Brooklyn, New York.

García Luna has been accused of receiving millions of dollars in bribes, from 2006 to 2012, from the Sinaloa Cartel — at that time headed by notorious Mexican cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, who was convicted and sentenced, ironically, in the same Brooklyn court in 2019 — in exchange for “safe passage for its drug shipments, sensitive law enforcement information about investigations into the cartel, and information about rival drug cartels,” according to U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in a court filing last week.

The trial of García Luna is expected to last eight weeks.

He faces several counts of allegedly participating in an ongoing criminal enterprise and conspiring to obtain, import and distribute thousands of kilograms of cocaine in the United States, in addition to making false statements to U.S. immigration officials. García Luna has pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he could face a minimum of 20 years in prison and a maximum of life.

The erstwhile secretary of public security served under former President Felipe Calderón, who was known for his infamous Mexican Drug War. García Luna was credited for designing the strategy of Calderón’s war, which the former president declared against drug cartels and organized crime, shortly after his inauguration.

There were high-profile arrests during Calderón’s administration, but those arrested were mostly from rival cartels such as the Los Zetas and Beltrán-Leyva criminal organizations. At that time, whispers of government favoritism toward the Sinaloa Cartel only grew louder.

And then, before the conviction of Guzmán Loera in July 2019, jurors in the drug lord’s trial heard the testimony of former cartel member Jesús Zambada that he personally made at least $6 million in hidden payments to García Luna, on behalf of his older brother, cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada — who is widely believed to have taken over as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel from Guzmán Loera. García Luna was arrested in Dallas, Texas, later that year and charged with narcotics trafficking and for assisting the Sinaloa Cartel.

García Luna on Tuesday stepped into the courtroom dressed in a blue suit and gray tie, after the judge granted the request of his lawyers to exempt their client from appearing in court in his prison uniform.

A report from Forbes Mexico said that García Luna — who had been detained in a U.S. prison for three years since his capture — appeared in court with completely gray hair, and at one point “looked towards the audience and put a hand on his chest, as if he were greeting an acquaintance.”

For security reasons, journalists were not allowed inside the courtroom.

Outside the court, several Mexican demonstrators held handwritten signs in Spanish that said, “García Luna, tell the truth,” “Mexico demands justice,” “García Luna, don’t cover anyone,” and “Calderón did know.”

Both the prosecution and defense have agreed on a pre-selection of 191 people who could form part of the jury, of the total 400 who were summoned last week, and of which more than half were objected to by one of the parties.

It is not mandatory for the 191 prospective jurors to be interviewed by the judge or by either the prosecution or the defense. When 15 people who are considered suitable and without prejudice to the case is selected, the process is closed, and the jury is considered complete.

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