By Frank Jack Daniel and Mark Hosenball
MEXICO CITY/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Business ties between former U.S. officials and an ex-Mexican security minister charged with taking bribes from a drug cartel have raised questions about what U.S. law enforcement knew about him before his arrest this month.
A former U.S. official who once headed the FBI’s office in Mexico and a senior ex-CIA officer worked as recently as last year with the accused Genaro Garcia Luna, one of the principal architects of Mexico’s 13-year war on drug cartels.
Raul Roldan, who was the FBI’s chief representative at the U.S. embassy in Mexico when the Mexican led national police, was among several U.S., Spanish and Colombian law enforcement veterans who appear in brochures as board members at Garcia Luna’s security company GLAC Consulting until last year.
“(Garcia Luna) had a very close relationship for many years with U.S. intelligence,” said Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope. “If he did what they say he did, that is a harsh sentence on all the verification mechanisms of U.S. intelligence.”
Garcia Luna was arrested in Dallas last week and charged with three counts of cocaine trafficking, and allowing the Sinaloa Cartel to operate with impunity in Mexico.
The 51-year-old Garcia Luna, who lived in Florida before his arrest, pleaded not guilty to the charges. A U.S. judge this week ordered him to remain held without bond.
Roldan declined to comment for this article.
Jose Rodriguez, a former director of the CIA’s clandestine service, who served with Roldan at GLAC until at least 2018, said all members on what he described as its advisory board had done due diligence before joining the firm as unpaid advisers.
“Those of us who know Garcia Luna are shocked by his recent arrest,” Rodriguez said in a statement to Reuters, adding that a former head of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Operations recently spoke highly of Garcia Luna’s integrity.
Rodriguez said GLAC’s board met four times, starting in 2016, and gave advice on a data product developed by Garcia Luna to calculate business risks in Mexico.
Garcia Luna spearheaded former President Felipe Calderon’s military-led crackdown on drug cartels launched in late 2006. Violence has only increased since then, and the flow of drugs to the United States continued largely unabated.
The arrest of Garcia Luna caused a shock in Mexico, though he had long had detractors. Critics alleged the Calderon administration was more lenient on the Sinaloa Cartel than other gangs, based on arrest numbers. Calderon denies this.
When Garcia Luna left office in 2012, magazine Proceso published a report pointing to his possible ties to cartels.
During the trial of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman last year, a senior gang member testified he had paid Garcia Luna millions of dollars in bribes. A witness in another trial last year also testified to his cartel links.
Garcia Luna denied the allegations.
Rodriguez said he was assured by friends in the law enforcement community that there were “no derogatory conclusions” about the former Mexican official.
Garcia Luna, who had permanent residency in the United States, also won awards from U.S. law enforcement for his work.
“I was certain that these agencies would not have recognized him if they believed he was corrupt,” Rodriguez said.
Security expert Hope said that given the accusations, U.S. security services must have reviewed Garcia Luna’s application for residency carefully.
The DEA referred questions about the involvement of former U.S. officials with Garcia Luna to the Eastern District of New York, where the case is being heard.
The FBI, CIA and the Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Dave Graham and Andrea Ricci)