‘General Tried to Bribe Defense Secretary on Sinaloa Cartel’s Behalf’

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A retired Mexican general allegedly offered to serve as the Sinaloa Cartel’s main contact with the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), a glimpse at how security officials are sometimes co-opted by “Chapo” Guzman.

The retired brigadier general, Juan Manuel Barragan, reportedly met with two representatives sent by Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” in December 2011, reported Mexico newspaper Reforma. He allegedly offered to help set up meetings between the cartel and Mexico’s top security officials, including the secretary of defense, the attorney general, and the head of the joint chiefs of staff, in exchange for $10,000.

The report is based on an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and the military, seen by Reforma.  The inquiry apparently began after the military received an anonymous tip on November 3, 2011, warning that General Barragan was in contact with organized criminal groups.

According to Reforma, the two Sinaloa Cartel representatives asked to meet with Barragan in a Mexico City restaurant, Bros Oyster Bar, on December 21, but ended up meeting with him in his office in the SEDENA headquarters on December 24. The cartel emissaries taped the meeting. During the recording, Barragan reportedly said that he was attempting to set up a meeting with Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan, but that the date kept getting postponed. Reforma reported that the video ended up in the hands of the military Attorney General’s Office two days later, perhaps suggesting that the meeting was a sting operation.

Barragan also supposedly said that he would give Galvan a $13,000 Rolex watch as a gift, engraved with Galvan’s name on the back, as a “token of appreciation” from El Chapo.

Barragan was detained in February 2012, charged with links to organized crime. He has denied the claims made by Reforma, stating that he did meet with the Sinaloa Cartel representatives in his office, but he did not solicit bribes, and that he later reported the meeting to the military attorney general.  

InSight Crime Analysis

The Reforma report implies that from the very beginning, the two cartel representatives who met with Barragan were collaborating with the Attorney General’s Office. If true, Barragan could possibly argue that he was set up, and that the cartel contacts provoked him into making damaging statements.

The investigation into Barragan’s unsavoury connections is just one of several corruption cases involving high-ranking military officials. In August, six members of the Mexican Army were charged with collaborating with drug traffickers, including a former Assistant Secretary of Defense and three retired generals.

There have been other cases of top level military officials in Mexico charged with links to organized crime, most notably that of General Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, the country’s former drugs czar, fired in 1997 and later convicted of working with the Juarez Cartel. But with the ongoing cases against Barragan and the other officers, arguably there has never been such a large group of military personnel being investigated simultaneously for ties to drug cartels.

The outcome of these cases will likely depend on whether the Attorney General’s Office is able to present reliable witnesses and hard evidence, as seems to be the case with the video recording that caught Barragan soliciting money. But prosecutors will face the challenge of using current or former cartel operatives as witnesses against the general, whose credibility may be questioned in court. The case against one of the six military officials detained in August, for example, is heavily dependent on several contradictory statements made by drug trafficker Sergio Villarreal Barragan, alias “El Grande.”

The Sinaloa Cartel is known for its preference for bribing officials rather than engaging in brutal violence. The cartel has also been accused of cultivating a contact, a clerk, within Mexico’s Supreme Court.

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