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El Chapo trial: Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán gets life in prison

From BBC

A US judge has sentenced Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to life in prison plus 30 years.

Guzmán, 62, was found guilty of 10 charges, including drug trafficking and money laundering, by a federal court in New York in February.

He escaped a Mexican jail through a tunnel in 2015, but was later arrested. He was extradited to the US in 2017.

He is a former head of the Sinaloa cartel, which officials say was the biggest supplier of drugs to the US.

Speaking through an interpreter just before Wednesday’s sentencing, Guzmán said in the Brooklyn courtroom his confinement in the US had amounted to “torture” and said he had received an unfair trial.

Guzmán's wife Emma Coronel attends the trial in New York. Photo: 17 July 2019
Image captionGuzmán’s wife Emma Coronel attended the sentencing

The life sentence was the minimum Guzmán faced. The additional 30 years were for unlawful uses of firearms. He was also ordered to pay $12.6bn (£10bn) in forfeiture.

Prosecutors said Guzmán would be serving his sentence behind “tonnes of steel”, referring to a high-security prison in Colorado.

Guzmán’s lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman announced plans to appeal against the verdict.

Media caption”No matter what you think of Joaquín Guzmán, he still deserves a fair trial”

He argued that the trial had not been conducted fairly and claimed that jurors were influenced by media coverage.

“It was a show trial,” he said.

Who is El Chapo?

“El Chapo” (or “Shorty”) ran the cartel in northern Mexico.

In 2009, Guzmán entered Forbes’ list of the world’s richest men at number 701, with an estimated worth of $1bn.

Media captionMexico’s drug war: Has it turned the tide?

He was accused of helping bring hundreds of tonnes of cocaine into the US and of conspiring to make and distribute heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana.

He was also said to have used hitmen to carry out hundreds of murders, assaults, kidnappings and acts of torture.

Key associates, including one former lieutenant, testified against Guzmán.

What was heard during the trial?

It provided shocking revelations about the drug lord’s life.

Court papers accused him of having girls as young as 13 drugged before raping them.

Sketch of Alex Cifuentes (L) and Guzmán
Image captionA former associate, Cifuentes (L), alleged that Guzmán (R) had sexually abused young girls

Another witness described seeing Guzmán murder at least three men.

Former bodyguard Isaias Valdez Rios said Guzmán beat two people who had joined a rival cartel until they were “completely like rag dolls”. He then shot them in the head and ordered their bodies be thrown on a fire.

In another incident, he had a member of the rival Arellano Felix cartel burned and imprisoned before taking him to a graveyard, shooting him and having him buried alive.

Guzmán is also alleged to have had his own cousin killed for lying about being out of town, and ordered a hit on the brother of another cartel leader because he did not shake his hand.

The court heard details of his 2015 escape from Mexico’s maximum-security Altiplano prison. His sons bought a property near the prison and a GPS watch smuggled into the prison gave diggers his exact location.

At one point Guzmán complained that he could hear the digging from his cell. He escaped by riding a specially adapted small motorcycle through the tunnel.

He also used software on his phone to spy on his wife and mistresses, which allowed the FBI to present his text messages in court.

In one set of texts, he recounted to his wife how he had fled a villa during a raid by US and Mexican officials, before asking her to bring him new clothes, shoes and black moustache dye.

Presentational grey line

He knew what was coming

Analysis by Nada Tawfik, BBC News, New York

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán knew his fate even before he entered the courtroom. The mandatory sentence for his crimes is life in prison. And so his focus throughout the hearing often strayed to his wife and family who were present in court.

From the defence table, he waved and blew them kisses, knowing it may be the last time he ever sees them.

He also used his last moment in public to complain about the US justice system, showing no remorse for his crimes.

Speaking through an interpreter while seated, he said he was denied a fair trial and that the US was no better than any other corrupt country.

That clearly rankled prosecutors. Pointing her finger directly at Guzmán, Assistant US Attorney Gina Parlovecchio hit back and said he was uniquely deserving of a life sentence because of his greed, violence, and corruption.

Presentational grey line

Why was this trial significant?

Guzmán is the highest profile Mexican drug cartel boss so far to stand trial in the US.

The drug war in Mexico – pitting the Mexican and US authorities against cartels smuggling drugs into the US and the cartels against each other – has killed about 100,000 people over more than a decade.

Media captionA former DEA agent describes capturing Guzmán in 2014 – he later escaped

Guzmán achieved notoriety for twice escaping custody in Mexico as well as avoiding arrest on numerous other occasions.

Among some in his home state, he had the status of a folk hero, a popular subject of “narcocorridos” – musical tributes to drugs barons.

In 2016, he gave an interview to Hollywood actor Sean Penn in a Mexican jungle following his escape the previous year and boasted that he was the world’s leading supplier of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana.

He was later recaptured in the north-western town of Los Mochis. During the raid he fled through a drain but was later caught by troops in a shootout.

The Brooklyn Bridge was closed each time Guzmán was driven across it
Image captionNew York’s Brooklyn Bridge was closed each time the motorcade containing Guzmán drove across it

The trial jurors were anonymous and were escorted to and from the courthouse in Brooklyn by armed marshals after prosecutors argued that Guzmán had a history of intimidating witnesses and even ordering their murders.

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