A courtroom sketch of Jesús “El Rey” Zambada during his Feb. 13 testimony in Brooklyn, New York. Photo: Jane Rosenberg


As the U.S. trial against Mexico’s former Secretary of Public Security Genaro García Luna and his purported collaboration with Mexican cartels in their international drug-trafficking schemes began to draw to a conclusion, U.S. prosecutors called their final witness to the stand at the Eastern District Court of Brooklyn, New York, on Monday, Feb. 13: Jesús “El Rey” Zambada, U.S. government witness in the case against Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and brother of purported Sinaloa cartel crime boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. 

García Luna, who was apprehended by the U.S. authorities in Houston in 2019, is accused at trial of committing five crimes – ​​three counts of drug trafficking, one count of organized crime and one count for falsified documents – during his time as Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security under former President Felipe Calderon.

Zambada, who worked for the Sinaloa cartel from 1987 until his 2008 capture, first pointed the finger at García Luna’s corruption when testifying at the trial of Sinaloa boss Guzmán, claiming that García Luna had received at least $56 million dollars worth of bribes from Mexico’s various criminal organizations – including multi-million-dollar sums from the Sinaloa cartel itself.

However, U.S. government intelligence and additional witness testimony has placed the true sum of bribes received by García Luna at whopping $230 million dollars between 2006 and 2012.

Now, Zambada’s Monday-morning testimony has shed further light upon the extent of García Luna’s alleged relationship with the Sinaloa cartel, as Zambada claims to have provided the former security secretary with $5 million worth of bribes back in 2006 during the transitional period between the incoming Calderon administration and its predecessor, the outgoing Vicente Fox administration.

According to Zambada, the first meeting between the Sinaloa cartel’s lawyer Óscar Paredes and García Luna in a Mexico City restaurant saw the soon-to-be public security secretary – who was still head of Mexico’s Agencia Federal de Investigación (AFI) at the time – demand $3 million from the Sinaloa cartel in exchange for the Mexican government’s continued cooperation with the drug trafficking group, a request supposedly fulfilled less than 20 minutes later.

 “The money was put in a large portfolio, like the ones lawyers use,” testified Zambada, who observed the meeting from a distance at the restaurant’s bar. “And some of the money was put in a suitcase of like those used by athletes, which are quite spacious.”

“After 15 minutes, I saw Genaro Luna with two other colleagues. One of his escorts carried the briefcase and the other, the suitcase,” added Zambada.

At the initial meeting with Paredes, who Zambada says was later assassinated in a Mexico City bar in 2010, García Luna purportedly promised the Sinaloa legal representative that the received bribes would keep El Mayo free from persecution and investigation by the Mexican government. 

“He told me that there was not going to be any problem with my brother, that he was going to let him work,” Zambada said while on the stand. “That he already had a commitment to the Beltrán Leyva brothers, and that it was all he could do for him.”

A secondary meeting at the very same Mexico City restaurant, this time with Zambada and García Luna quickly crossing paths, saw the cartel hand over another $2 million to García Luna, cementing the two parties’ relationship. Later, Zambada testified that García Luna’s nephew Víctor Hugo García had received an additional hundreds of thousands of pesos in bribes from the Sinaloa cartel to put a key cartel member in a position of power at Mexico’s Assistant Attorney General’s Office for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (Siedo), giving the group an inside look at the government’s work against them.

Zambada went on to say that García Luna’s aid at the governmental level allowed the Sinaloa cartel to grow faster than ever before, and added that the organized crime group was simultaneously collaborating with members of the Mexican Federal Police – some of which even invested money into the cartel’s cocaine shipments and helped unload drugs trafficked in from Venezuela.

García Luna’s legal defense team was unable to finish cross examining Zambada before the end of the court day, pushing the continuation of the former Sinaloa cartel member’s testimony to the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Though García Luna was also given the opportunity to testify on his own behalf, the former Mexican public security secretary has officially declined to take the stand, setting the stage for the trial’s conclusion in the days to follow with closing arguments and jury deliberation slated to begin Wednesday, Feb. 15.

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