Mexican drug lord Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as “El Chapo”, paid former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto a bribe of $100 million, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing testimony from a former associate of the drug lord.
Guzmán, 61, was the kingpin of the influential Sinaloa drug cartel that is believed to be responsible for almost 25% of all illegal drugs that enter the United States from Mexico. He was extradited to the US from Mexico in January 2017 and his trial began in November.
Alex Cifuentes on Tuesday agreed he had told authorities in 2016 that Guzmán had arranged the bribe. Cifuentes describes himself as Guzmán’s one-time right-hand man and discussed the alleged bribe under cross-examination by Jeffrey Lichtman, one of the lawyers representing Guzmán.
Pena Nieto has previously denied taking bribes. However, his former chief of staff denied the allegation.
“The declarations of the Colombian drug trafficker in New York are false, defamatory and absurd,” tweeted Francisco Guzman in a post on Twitter. He added that the Mexican government under Pena Nieto had “located, detained and extradited” Guzmán.
Cifuentes testified that he had told American prosecutors that Pena Nieto had initially asked for $250 million. He added that the bribe was paid in October 2012, when Pena Nieto was president-elect. He was president of Mexico from December 2012 to November 2018.
Lichtman also asked Cifuentes about another claim that former President Felipe Calderón had received a bribe from the Beltrán Leyvas family, Guzmán’s drug trafficking rivals, CNN reported.
Calderón had in November called the allegations “absolutely false and reckless” and denied receiving any payments from either Guzmán or the Sinaloa cartel.
Cifuentes, born in Colombia, also testified that Guzmán had asked an associate to pay a $10 million bribe to a general. The bribe wasn’t paid and Guzmán had ordered to have the associate killed, although the murder was never carried out, he said. Cifuentes is one of a dozen witnesses who have so far testified against Guzmán after striking deals with American prosecutors.
Guzmán has pleaded not guilty to 17 federal charges, including running a criminal organisation, conspiring to murder his rivals, money laundering and firearms violations. If convicted, he faces a life sentence. The trial is expected to last four months.