U.S. judge signals slow-moving corruption trial for former Mexican security chief

By Drazen Jorgic

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge designated the drug corruption trial of former top Mexican security official Genaro Garcia Luna as “complex” on Tuesday, raising expectations for slow-moving proceedings as he set the next court date for April 2.

The arrest of Garcia Luna in Dallas last month sent shockwaves across Mexico, where he spearheaded the country’s “War On Drugs” for many years beginning in 2006.

Federal Judge Brian Cogan in New York granted U.S. prosecutors’ request to declare the trial “complex,” which effectively waives the need to bring a person to trial within 70 days once they have been indicted, as stipulated under the U.S. Speedy Trial Act.

U.S. prosecutors allege Garcia Luna, 51, took millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel, once run by ruthless kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, to help it operate with impunity in Mexico.

Garcia Luna pleaded not guilty earlier this month at a hearing in a federal court in Brooklyn, but his lawyers had indicated he may be in talks to change his plea.

Cogan set the next case status conference for April 2, according to John Marzulli, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney’s office.

“There is voluminous amounts of evidence in the case, voluminous documents, and some of those documents are classified, so the case was declared complex,” Marzulli said. Garcia Luna’s defense lawyers did not object to the case designation, he added.

Charges against Garcia Luna include drug trafficking conspiracy and making false statements, and he faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Garcia Luna was living in Florida before his arrest. It has been an embarrassment for former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who was a close ally, but also former U.S. anti-narcotics officials who had praised Garcia Luna’s efforts and worked closely with him.

Garcia Luna led Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency from 2001 to 2005 and was secretary of public security from 2006 to 2012 during Calderon’s six-year presidency.

According to court papers, the Sinaloa cartel bribed Garcia Luna throughout his time in government to ensure safe passage for its drugs, and obtain information about rival cartels and Mexican probes into its activities.

(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Tom Brown)