Americas

Mexican cartel boss ‘El Chapo’ found guilty in drug trafficking trial

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman  – who rose to fame as Mexico’s most feared drug kingpin – has been found guilty in his drug-trafficking trial.

A US jury reached a verdict in the high-profile trial today after almost three months of testimony and more than a week of deliberations.

Guzman was charged with 10 criminal counts, including drug trafficking and engaging in a criminal enterprise as leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel.

He was found guilty of all these charges and now faces life behind bars.

The 61-year-old rose from poverty in rural Mexico to run a global drug empire and amass billions of dollars operating a criminal enterprise.

Jurors began deliberating in federal court in Brooklyn on February 4.

The lack of a verdict in the first week seemed to please Guzman, who grinned and hugged one of his lawyers before he was led out of the courtroom.

He was accused of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States as leader of the cartel, named for his home state in northwestern Mexico.

Guzman escaped twice from maximum-security Mexican prisons before his final capture in January 2016. He was extradited to the United States a year later. Small in stature, Guzman’s nickname means "Shorty."

Although other high-ranking cartel figures had been extradited previously, Guzman was the first to go to trial instead of pleading guilty.

His defense has argued that Guzman was set up as a "fall guy" by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, a drug kingpin from Sinaloa who remains at large.

Prosecutors claimed Guzman and Zambada were partners.

More than 50 witnesses testified during the 11-week trial, including 14 former associates of Guzman who had agreed to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors.

The cooperators, most of whom had pleaded guilty to U.S. drug charges, offered detailed accounts of the Sinaloa Cartel’s inner workings and Guzman’s purported role as boss, describing his lavish lifestyle and penchant for murdering his enemies.

In a series of notes last week, the jury sought answers to legal questions and asked to review days of testimony from several of the cooperators.

The trial offered the public an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, named for the state in northwestern Mexico where Guzman was born in a poor mountain village.

The most detailed evidence against Guzman came from more than a dozen former associates who struck deals to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors.

Through them, jurors heard how the Sinaloa Cartel gained power amid the shifting allegiances of the Mexican drug trade in the 1990s, eventually coming to control almost the entire Pacific coast of Mexico.

They heard how Guzman made a name for himself in the 1980s as "El Rapido," the speedy one, by building cross-border tunnels that allowed him to move cocaine from Mexico into the United States faster than anyone else.

The witnesses, who included some of Guzman’s top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organisation reminiscent of a multinational corporation, with fleets of planes and boats, detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada.

A former bodyguard testified that he watched Guzman kill three rival drug cartel members, including one victim who he shot and then ordered to be buried even as he was still gasping for air.

Estimates of how much money Guzman made from drugs vary. In 2009, Forbes Magazine put him on its list of the world’s richest people, with an estimated $1 billion. It later dropped him from the list, saying it was too difficult to quantify his assets.

The U.S. Justice Department said in 2017 it sought forfeiture of more than $14 billion in drug proceeds and illicit profits from Guzman.

The trial also featured extensive testimony about corruption in Mexico, most of it involving bribes to law enforcement, military and local government officials so the cartel could carry out its day-to-day drug shipping operations undisturbed.

The most shocking allegation came from Guzman’s former top aide Alex Cifuentes, who accused former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto of taking a $100 million bribe from Guzman.

A spokesman for the ex-president has denied the claim.

In one of the trial’s final days, Guzman told the judge he would not testify in his own defense. The same day, he grinned broadly at audience member Alejandro Edda, the Mexican actor who plays Guzman in the Netflix drama "Narcos."

Despite his ties to government officials, Guzman often lived on the run. Imprisoned in Mexico in 1993, he escaped in 2001 hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa, guarded by a private army.

He was seized and imprisoned again in 2014, but pulled off his best known escape the following year when he disappeared into a tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum security prison.

But the Mexican government says he blew his cover through a series of slip ups, including an attempt to make a movie about his life.

He was finally recaptured in January 2016 following a shootout in Sinaloa.

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