Accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman once paid a $100m bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, an ex-Guzman associate testified, adding that he previously let the United States authorities know about it.
Alex Cifuentes, who has described himself as Guzman’s onetime right-hand man, discussed the alleged bribe under cross-examination by Jeffrey Lichtman, one of Guzman’s lawyers, on Tuesday in Brooklyn federal court.
Asked if he told authorities in 2016 that Guzman arranged the bribe, he answered, “That’s right.”
There was no immediate comment from Pena Nieto, who has previously denied taking bribes, or his former spokesman.
His former chief of staff, however, took to social media to reject the accusation.
“The declarations of the Colombian drug trafficker in New York are false, defamatory and absurd,” wrote Francisco Guzman in a post on Twitter, adding that the Pena Nieto government “located, detained, and extradited” the Mexican kingpin.
The allegations are among the most explosive to emerge from Guzman’s trial, which began in November, and has so far featured testimony of lower-level corruption.
Guzman, 61, was extradited to the US in 2017 to face charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and other drugs into the country as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Cifuentes testified he had told US prosecutors that Pena Nieto initially reached out to Guzman, asking for $250m.
The suspect said that he told the prosecutors that the bribe was paid in October 2012, when Pena Nieto was president-elect.
Cifuentes also said that Guzman once told him he had received a message from Pena Nieto saying he did not have to live in hiding any more.
It was unclear how Cifuentes’ testimony, which appeared to implicate Guzman, could be used to defend him, though Lichtman homed in on inconsistencies in Cifuentes’ memory.
Cifuentes admitted that at a meeting last year, he told prosecutors he was no longer sure of the exact amounts of the bribes, but did not elaborate.
Pena Nieto was president of Mexico from December 2012 until November 2018. He was once a rising star in Mexico’s long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and was the former governor of the state of Mexico, the country’s most populous.
However, the president ended his term a much-diminished figure, pummeled by conflict-of-interest scandals, rampant crime and a lacklustre economy.
While Pena Nieto himself was barred by law from running for second term in 2018, his centrist party suffered a landmark defeat at the polls as leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won in a landslide, relegating the PRI to the role of a marginal player in the new Mexican Congress.