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BROOKLYN — The list of Mexican presidents linked to corruption allegations in trial of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has risen to three, and now includes the man currently in office, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
A court filing unsealed Wednesday evening by U.S. federal prosecutors mentions a bribe allegedly paid by the younger brother of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a Sinaloa cartel leader who remains free in Mexico, to an unnamed individual who worked on López Obrador’s failed 2006 presidential campaign.
A spokesperson for López Obrador, who took office on Dec. 1 after campaigning on a promise to curb corruption, declined to comment, citing the fact that the allegations came from a protected witness at a trial that is not taking place in Mexico.
On Tuesday, witness Alex Cifuentes testified that former president of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto, who left office in December, tried to solicit a $250 million bribe from El Chapo in October 2012, a few months after he was elected. Cifuentes said Chapo ended up paying $100 million, and suggested that some of the money was delivered in suitcases full of cash to a political consultant who worked on Peña Nieto’s campaign. Peña Nieto’s former spokesman called the allegations “false, defamatory and absurd.”
Cifuentes was also asked during his testimony about a debriefing with U.S. authorities in which he claimed that Felipe Calderón, who defeated López Obrador in Mexico’s 2006 presidential election, accepted bribes from a group at war with the Sinaloa cartel. Cifuentes testified that he didn’t recall making that claim. Calderón denied the allegation, and he told VICE News in a 2018 interview that he “established a clear rule of no agreements with anyone.”
The alleged bribe to the individual who worked for López Obrador in 2006 was purportedly delivered by Jesus Reynaldo Zambada Garcia aka El Rey, a high-ranking Sinaloa cartel member who testified against El Chapo in November.
Chapo’s attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said in his opening statement to the jury that “the current and former presidents of Mexico received hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes” from El Mayo. Prosecutors convinced Judge Brian Cogan to block Chapo’s lawyers from questioning El Rey about López Obrador, but the bribery allegation became public this week following the explosive testimony from Cifuentes.
The government again asked the judge to block testimony about high-level corruption, but Cogan denied the request Wednesday and ordered the motion from prosecutors to be unsealed.
Cover: President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador speaks during the morning press conference at National Palace on January 14, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Pedro Gonzalez Castillo/Getty Images)