Drug lord El Chapo paid ex-Mexican president $136m, claims witness
Alleged drug lord's right-hand man claims Pena Nieto was paid in October 2012
NEW YORK: Accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman once paid a US$100m (S$136 million) bribe to former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, an ex-Guzman associate testified on Tuesday that he previously told US authorities.
Alex Cifuentes, who describes himself as Guzman's one-time right-hand man, discussed the alleged bribe under cross-examination by one of Guzman's lawyers.
Asked if he told the authorities in 2016 that Guzman arranged the bribe, he answered, "That's right".
Reuters could not reach Mr Pena Nieto or his former spokesman for comment. He has previously denied taking bribes.
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 Mr Francisco Guzman in a post on Twitter, adding that the Mr 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 that he had told US prosecutors that Mr Pena Nieto initially reached out to Guzman, asking for US$250 million. Cifuentes told the prosecutors that the bribe was paid in October 2012, when Mr Pena Nieto was president-elect, he testified.
Cifuentes also testified that Guzman once told him he had received a message from Mr Pena Nieto, saying he did not have to live in hiding anymore.
Guzman's lawyers had promised jurors they would hear how Mexican drug kingpin Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada bribed Mr Pena Nieto and another former president as part of a scheme to frame Guzman. He said Zambada was the real boss of the cartel.
Mr Pena Nieto at the time called the claim "completely false and defamatory."
It is unclear how Cifuentes' testimony, which seemed to implicate Guzman, could be used to defend him.
Mr Pena Nieto was president of Mexico from December 2012 until November last year.
He was once a rising star in Mexico's long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) but ended his term diminished, beset by scandals, rampant crime and a lacklustre economy.
PRI suffered a historic defeat at the polls as leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won in a landslide. - REUTERS