NEW YORK: The trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman provided a rare and terrifying look into the workings of one of the world’s largest cartels.
Over the space of nearly three months, a New York jury heard 56 government witnesses deliver dramatic evidence against Guzman.
According to the witnesses, the Sinaloa cartel, of which Guzman was a co-leader, flooded the United States with cocaine with the blessing of countless police, military officers and Mexican officials — going all the way up to the president — who turned their heads in exchange for bribes worth millions.
On February 12, a jury found Guzman guilty of crimes spanning a quarter century, and on Wednesday, a judge is expected to sentence him to life in prison.
Here is a summary of some of the highlights of the trial:
Torture and killings
Isaias Valdez Rios, described as a hired killer for El Chapo, testified that he saw the drug kingpin torture and execute three rival traffickers, burying one of them alive. The two others had bones broken before being killed. Their bodies were then burned.
Other witnesses said they had seen El Chapo order kidnappings and killings of rivals or of police who refused to accept bribes. They said El Chapo had a permanent security guard of perhaps 100 men armed with pistols, automatic weapons, grenades and rocket launchers.
Two former partners of Guzman testified that he paid millions of dollars in bribes to senior officials of the Mexican government to hunt down rivals, expand his business, and dodge the authorities and police at all levels — and even within Interpol.
His attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said Guzman also bribed two Mexican presidents — Enrique Pena Nieto and Felipe Calderon — but they denied this.
With his face disfigured by repeated rounds of plastic surgery to conceal his identity, Juan Carlos ‘Chupeta’ Ramirez, a former boss of a Colombian drug cartel, testified that with help from Guzman, he smuggled more than 400 tonnes of cocaine to the US from 1989 until his own arrest in 2007.
Ramirez, who said he had ordered the death of some 150 people and was one of Guzman’s main cocaine suppliers, said he did business with the latter — paying him with drugs — because he managed to get the merchandise to the US “very quickly.”
A steep price markup
El Chapo’s accountant, Jesus Zambada, told the jury how El Chapo purchased Colombian cocaine for $3,000 (Dh11,017) a kilo and then sold it in New York for $35,000 a kilo.
All the drugs, an average of 80 to 100 tonnes a year, were sent to the United States, he said.
With the help of Christian Rodriguez, a Colombian who was El Chapo’s communications chief, US government agents intercepted some 200 conversations between the cartel boss and his associates, hired killers, and corrupt Mexican officials.
Investigators also intercepted encrypted messages between El Chapo and others, sent on Blackberries that the trafficker used to spy on his associates and his mistresses.
In one message read to the jury, El Chapo speaks with associate and a former mistress known as ‘la Fiera’ about setting up dummy corporations in Germany and Ecuador in order to export drugs “to Europe, to Canada, to Australia and to the United States.” They also discuss the purchase in Belize of 700kg of cocaine.
Airplanes full of dollars
El Chapo’s former pilot and business manager, Miguel Angel ‘Gordo’ Martinez, testified that the cartel boss would sometimes receive as many as three cash-filled airplanes from the United States in a single day. Each plane carried “eight to 10 million dollars,” he said.
He also told how El Chapo worked with Colombian suppliers to finance deliveries of up to 14 tonnes of cocaine — transported by boat to international waters off Mexico, where Colombian crews would hand over the drugs to El Chapo’s employees.
Martinez estimated that from 1990 to 1993, El Chapo thus imported 25 to 30 tonnes of cocaine into Mexico each year.
A former lover and partner of Guzman, Lucero Guadalupe Sanchez Lopez, testified in the presence of his wife, Emma Coronel, that one night in 2014, the two came close to being captured by Mexican marines and escaped through a tunnel built under a bathtub in a house in Culiacan state.
She said Guzman was totally naked as he ran ahead of her and left her behind.