(CNN Spanish) –– The trial against Genaro García Luna in a federal court in New York advances this Monday with the initial arguments.
García Luna was Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security between 2006 and 2012, during the presidency of Felipe Calderón, and is the highest-ranking former Mexican official to face US justice on drug trafficking and corruption charges.
After three days of analysis, this Thursday, January 19, the jury for the trial of García Luna was constituted. The former official faces the possibility of a 20-year prison sentence or life imprisonment for the corruption and drug trafficking charges against him, and to which he has pleaded not guilty.
García Luna, who for a decade served as head of Mexico’s now dissolved Federal Investigation Agency, equivalent to the FBI, was arrested on December 9, 2019 in Dallas and charged with drug trafficking and accepting million-dollar bribes from the Sinaloa Cartel, led at that time by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
The prosecution argues that, in exchange for money, García Luna allowed the Sinaloa Cartel to operate with impunity in Mexico and helped traffickers transport drugs safely and without the intervention of law enforcement to the United States, and that it even carried out attacks against rival cartels.
The former official faces several counts of participation in an ongoing criminal enterprise and others of conspiring to obtain, import and distribute thousands of kilograms of cocaine in the US, in addition to allegedly making false statements to US immigration officials.
García Luna has pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he would face a minimum sentence of 20 years in prison up to life in prison.
The trial will take place in the Eastern District Court of New York and will be presided over by federal judge Brian Cogan, the same court and judge who oversaw the case against Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. During Guzmán’s trial, García Luna’s name was mentioned when some testified that they gave suitcases full of money to the former head of the Mexican Police.
Prosecutors estimate that the trial could last about eight weeks, during which various pieces of evidence and dozens of witnesses will be presented, including former members of the Sinaloa Cartel and other drug traffickers. It is not yet clear if García Luna will speak in his own defense, but he could still avoid a lengthy trial if he decides to cut a plea deal with prosecutors in exchange for a guilty plea.
Seven women and five men will be in charge of deciding on the innocence or guilt of the former head of the Mexican Police. By order of the judge, the jury will be anonymous and will remain partially isolated.
These 12 US citizens were chosen from 400 candidates. Each had to answer basic questions about their identity, their ethnicity, their profession and any information that could influence the verdict.
Judge Cogan ordered these conditions at the request of the prosecution. Cogan said the persistent violence and the broad reach of the cartel, to which García Luna has been linked by prosecutors, make it reasonably likely that jurors will fear for their safety if they are not guaranteed anonymity.
The prosecutors and García Luna’s lawyer, César de Castro, will present their initial arguments starting on January 23 and will then move on to the testimonies of the witnesses.
At the end of that process, the jury will enter into deliberations and will have to reach a unanimous verdict on each charge that García Luna faces.
During the trial of Chapo Guzmán, the jury was also anonymous and partially isolated.
Guzmán was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2019, and is serving his sentence at the maximum-security federal prison in Colorado.
After selecting the 12 members of the panel, Judge Brian Cogan issued a ruling that restricted the presentation of some evidence in the sessions and revealed the names of some of the possible witnesses in the case.
Among them are Jesús “el Rey” Zambada, a former operator of the Sinaloa Cartel, who during the trial against Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán testified that on two occasions he allegedly delivered suitcases with US$ 8 million in bribes to García Luna in exchange for his protection. .
Also Edgar Veytia, alias “el Diablo”, former prosecutor of the Mexican state of Nayarit, who was sentenced in the United States to 20 years in prison for drug trafficking and Alex Cifuentes Villa, a Colombian drug trafficker who also gave statements in the trial against El Chapo.
Sergio Villarreal Barragán, known as “el Grande”, a former collaborator of the US authorities and a former member of the Beltrán Leyva Cartel, is also expected to give statements.
The document also refers to an unidentified witness alleged to have engaged in cannibalism, but Judge Cogan barred the defense from referring to that allegation because of its defamatory and distracting nature.
Among the other things that, according to the judge’s ruling, the jury will not hear are questions about some of Cifuentes Villa’s alleged beliefs about aliens and the Illuminati. Nor about evidence unrelated to the case that could call into question the credibility of some of the witnesses.
The judge, however, granted the defense’s request to exclude evidence about the expensive García Luna lifestyle, arguing that there is no evidence that it was financed with money from the Sinaloa Cartel.
The defense may also show the jury photos of García Luna with senior officials of the US government, as evidence -according to the defense- of his fight against the Mexican drug cartels.
César de Castro, García Luna’s lawyer, has said that cartel witnesses the government will present have made false accusations as a form of revenge.
As happened during the trial against Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, potentially explosive statements are expected that could implicate other Mexican officials.
Furthermore, it is hoped that it will shed more light on the internal functions of drug cartels, the violence they inflict, and the level of corruption that often sustains them.