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September 23, 2017

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Spain, FBI foil Mexican drug cartel

MADRID--Spanish police working with the FBI have halted an attempt by a major Mexican drug smuggling and distribution ring to establish a European operation, authorities said Friday. Four suspected Sinaloa cartel members, including an alleged cousin of the group's notorious leader, have been arrested in Madrid.

The Interior Ministry said the cartel wanted to make Spain a gateway for operations in Europe, even carrying out test runs using shipping containers without drugs. But investigators managed to monitor many of the group's activities and intercepted a container carrying 373 kilos (822 pounds) of cocaine in late July before moving in to make the arrests.

The ministry statement said Jesus Gutierrez Guzman, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela and Jesus Gonzalo Palazuelos Soto were arrested near their hotels in the Spanish capital. The statement did not say precisely when the arrests were made, and ministry officials reached by phone could not immediately give exact details of the dates.

The investigation was initiated by the Boston unit of the FBI's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force in 2009, said Greg Comcowich, a spokesman for the Boston FBI. Comcowich said the FBI later worked with the Spanish national police.

Jesus Gutierrez Guzman is alleged to be the cousin of Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman, known as "El Chapo," the leader of the cartel and Mexico's most wanted man. Since escaping prison in 2001, Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman has run the Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico's two most powerful drug-organizations, from a series of hideouts and safe houses across Mexico.

Along with the alleged link to the cartel leader, the arrests in Spain have attracted a great deal of media interest in Mexico because a Facebook page in Celaya Valenzuela's name appears to show a photograph of him alongside Enrique Pena Nieto, the man who won the July 1 presidential elections. The photo was posted on Feb. 11.

Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, appeared to acknowledge he was a member, as Celaya Valenzuela claimed, but said he had not participated in Pena Nieto's campaign.

The PRI noted in a statement that "during his presidential campaign, Enrique Pena Nieto took hundreds of thousands of photos with party members and sympathizers, without that implying any commitment or close relationship."

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