And then there were three.
In a trial in federal court in New York that is turning out to be about far more than Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Mexican drug lord, a court document that was unsealed Wednesday claimed bribes by cartels were paid to former president Felipe Calderon and to a former campaign worker of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The assertion of corruption came just a day after the bombshell -- by witness Alex Cifuentes Villa, a Colombian drug trafficker who worked with El Chapo from 2007 to 2013 -- that former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto attempted to squeeze $250 million in bribes from the kingpin shortly after he took office in 2012.
The court document, which the U.S. government sought to keep sealed, saying it was irrelevant to its case against El Chapo, referred to a bribe that was paid by a brother of Sinaloa cartel leader Ismael Zambada to an unidentified man who worked López Obrador’s unsuccessful 2006 presidential campaign, reported Vice News.
El Chapo’s attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman -- who himself made headlines after reports he had sent numerous steamy texts to a former client who became his mistress – alleged in his opening statement that “current and former presidents of Mexico received hundreds of millions of dollars in bribes” from Zambada.
A spokesperson for López Obrador did not want to comment on the allegations because they are from a protected witness in a trial outside Mexico, according to Vice.
As for Calderon, in a debriefing with U.S. authorities, Cifuentes reportedly spoke about how the former president had taken bribes from a rival group of the Sinaloa cartel. But then Cifuentes testified that he didn’t remember saying anything about the bribe and Calderon.
On Tuesday, Cifuentes testified that Peña Nieto, who left office in December, received $100 million of the $250 million he had pushed to get.
Peña Nieto’s former spokesman said that the allegations “false, defamatory and absurd,” according to Vice.
El Chapo was extradited to the U.S. in 2017 to face charges of running the Sinaloa cartel, which became the primary supplier of cocaine and other drugs across the U.S.
Mexico has reacted with a shrug to the salacious details raised in the trial of bribes to presidents, according to the New York Times, which noted that it’s been barely mentioned in the country’s news outlets.
Many Mexicans, the newspaper reported, said they will withhold judgment until and unless they see evidence of the bribes. Many said that drug traffickers in Mexico routinely make serious allegations in order to cut deals with prosecutors.
“For all his faults and flaws, Peña Nieto captured Chapo and extradited him, knowing full well that any information would filter out,” said Alejandro Hope, a security expert with a Mexican consulting firm, the Group of Economists and Associates, to The Times. “The guy was being hunted down from Day 1 of Peña Nieto’s administration.”