Chapo paid former Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, a $100 million bribe blared yesterday’s headlines across major news media outlets. According to the reports, testimony in the Chapo trial elicited this damning evidence. But not all is what it looks like. The Chapo trial has been ongoing for weeks now. It has been lost in all the Donald Trump noise. But, the “news” that Chapo paid Enrique Peña Nieto a bribe caught the attention of many.
But, did he really?
I’m not sure and neither is anyone else sitting in the court room because of the court room shenanigans that most have missed.
Here is the context to the testimony from one individual that resulted in the splashy headlines.
1. The judge in the case has allowed secrecy to reign in the court room. Many of the court documents are filed under seal and those released are heavily redacted. It is so bad that the New York Times and Vice reporters have complained about the secrecy in a supposedly open court room. The nuggets that slipped out include allegations of CIA involvement and DEA payments, not too mention the numerous testimonies of Mexican corruption.
2. Whenever the testimony strayed towards bribing American and Mexican officials, the judge has stopped the testimony.
3. The salacious testimony about the bribe was made by one of Chapo’s closest partners testifying against him in exchange for leniency. But here is the thing. The bribery testimony was elicited by Chapo’s defense team after the witness provided damning details about Chapo’s drug business.
However, it gets more interesting. The judge in the case is questioning the relevance of the testimony. The judge “admitted it was possible” that Peña Nieto was bribed but did not see how that was relevant for Chapo’s defense.
The judge goes on to add that the government (prosecutors) don’t believe the testimony because the witness is relating what was told to him by Chapo Guzman. They don’t believe Chapo was “entirely candid”. The judge added that the prosecutors never offered evidence of the bribe and “may not in fact believe the witness, Alex Cifuentes, who said Chapo paid $100 million to Peña Nieto”.
It is also important to point out that the prosecutors have several tape recordings of Chapo talking about deals and other transactions because Chapo’s encrypted communications system was being intercepted by the FBI. The recordings also include conversations with Chapo’s wife and mistresses.
The prosecution has not offered any evidence of the bribery allegation.
4. Enrique Peña Nieto is not the only former Mexican president to be named by a government witness as receiving a bribe. Felipe Calderón was also named by another government witness as being bribed.
5. Other testimony shows that the U.S. Coast Guard rescued one of Chapo’s drug-laden boats with one of his closest associates on board after the boat broke down. As the Coast Guard approached, the drugs were heaved overboard including $1 million hidden in a cooler.
The Chapo associate testified that he thanked Chapo and Mayo, another drug kingpin, for having the Coast Guard release him from custody with no charges filed.
6. Other testimony alleges at least one DEA agent was bribed to help protect the cartel’s business.
Note that the last two allegations were not included in the scandalous headlines of presidential bribery? Also note that the context of the secrecy of the court room wasn’t shared, as well. Finally, no one cross-examined the testimony of the bribe to Enrique Peña Nieto.
Here is another detail that the sensational headlines also did not mention.
Chapo’s current wife, who he had American twins with, is an American citizen who attends the trial on a regular basis. Why is this important?
Because the wife has been implicated through recordings made public in court of actively engaged in the drug trade business with her husband and her father, also a drug kingpin on the run. Why is she free to not only come and go to the court room and even travel to and from México without being arrested by U.S. officials? Remember, the recorded phone calls played in court clearly show her active involvement in the drug trade.
These are important context things that provide a better understanding of what was said and why.
But because it involves México it must be so without anyone taking a moment to critically examine the evidence. The Chapo trial has played out in the background while the government shut down dominates the news cycle.
Mention a bribe to Mexican president and all of a sudden everyone perks up.
Did Chapo bribe Enrique Peña Nieto?
It is possible. Did it happen? We just don’t know at this point. Much of the reason is because of the heavy-handed secrecy in a court proceeding that is supposed to be public.