Former Mexican defense minister arrested in US on drugs, money charges

File photo: Salvador Cienfuegos, former defense minister of Mexico

Salvador Cienfuegos, former defense minister of Mexico, has been detained at the Los Angeles Airport in the United States on unknown charges, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard tweeted on Thursday.

Ebrard said U.S. ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau informed him about the arrest.

Two people with knowledge of the arrest said Cienfuegos was taken into custody on a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration warrant. One of the people said the warrant was for drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

The general served from 2012 to 2018 as secretary of defense under President Enrique Pena Nieto. Ebrard said Cienfuegos was arrested at L.A. international airport, as he was either arriving or leaving the country. 

Ebrard did not say what charges were placed at the arrest. He wrote that Mexico's consul in Los Angeles would be informing him about the charges "in the next few hours," and that Cienfuegos had a right to consular assistance. 

File photo: Mexico's Defense Secretary General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda gestures as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis listens during a reception ceremony in Mexico City, September 15, 2017. (Photo: AP)

Cienfuegos is the highest-ranking former Cabinet official arrested since the country's top security official Genaro Garcia Luna was arrested in Texas in 2019. Garcia Luna, who served in the top cabinet security post from 2006 to 2012 under ex-president Felipe Calderon, has pleaded not guilty to drug trafficking charges.

The U.S. DEA declined to comment Thursday night.

Cienfuegos is 72 years old and has retired from active duty. Mexico's Defense Department had no immediate reaction to the arrest.