'El Chapo' paid Mexico's ex-president $100 million bribe, says witness

An ex-Colombian drug trafficker has testified that the president wanted $250 million, but settled for less. Former officials have rejected the allegations, saying they are "false, defamatory and absurd."

A key witness in the trial of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman on Tuesday said the Mexican drug lord had paid a bribe amounting to $100 million to former President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Colombian trafficker Alex Cifuentes, who described himself as Guzman's former right-hand man, said the once-head of the Sinaloa cartel had bribed Pena Nieto in 2012, when he was president-elect, in exchange for the government ending its manhunt to find him.

Cifuentes admitted that he first discussed the bribe with prosecutors in 2016, when he began cooperating with US authorities.

Pena Nieto had first asked for $250 million, but later settled for $100 million, Cifuentes said he told prosecutors. After the bribe was paid, Pena Nieto sent a message to Guzman that he longer had to live in hiding, Cifuentes testified.

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The former Mexican president has denied any wrongdoing, with his former chief of staff taking to Twitter to reject the allegations.

"The declarations of the Colombian drug trafficker in New York are false, defamatory and absurd," said Francisco Guzman (no relation to "El Chapo") on Twitter.

The ex-official noted that Pena Nieto's government "located, detained and extradited" the notorious drug lord. "From the beginning, it was a priority for the security cabinet."

Guzman managed to escape from Mexican maximum security prisons twice. In 2015, he escaped by accessing a tunnel built under his cell. A monthslong manhunt culminated in his capture in January 2016. He was later extradited to the US to stand trial for trafficking illegal narcotics into the US.

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ls/ (Reuters, AP)