Thursday 19 April 2018

Drug kingpin El Chapo appears in New York court

The authorities escort Joaquin
The authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at Long Island MacArthur Airport (US law enforcement/AP)

Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has appeared in court in New York, where a federal public defence lawyer entered a not guilty plea for him.

A hush fell over the Brooklyn courtroom moments before Guzman entered on Friday.

He looked dazed and wore a dark blue T-shirt and dark blue trousers.

Guzman is charged with running a massive drug-trafficking operation that laundered billions of dollars and oversaw murders and kidnappings.

Guzman answered questions through an interpreter standing to his right and said he could understand the judge's English.

No bail was sought.

Prosecutors agreed to not seek the death penalty as a condition of the extradition of Guzman, who is the convicted leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

US prosecutors have described Guzman as the murderous architect of a three-decade web of violence, corruption and drug addiction and announced they are seeking a 14 billion dollar (£11 billion) forfeiture from him.

Prosecutors sought to bring him before US courts for years while he made brazen prison escapes and spent years on the run in Mexico.

"Today marks a milestone in our pursuit of Chapo Guzman," said Robert Capers, the prosecutor in Brooklyn. "He's a man known for a life of crime, violence, death and destruction, and now he'll have to answer for that."

As boss of the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman allegedly presided over a syndicate that shipped tons of heroin and cocaine to the US, using tanker trucks, planes with secret landing strips, container ships, speedboats and even submarines, prosecutors said.

Perhaps most famously, Guzman's cartel built elaborate tunnels under the US border to transport drugs, said Wifredo Ferrer, the prosecutor in Miami.

The cartel made billions of dollars in profits and employed hitmen who carried out murders, kidnappings and acts of torture, according to prosecutors.

The Sinaloa smugglers also helped fuel an epidemic of drug abuse in the US in the 1980s and 1990s, prosecutors said.

Guzman's lawyers in Mexico called his extradition, which he had fought, a political move to distract from fuel protests there.

The Drug Enforcement Administration flew him to New York from the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez on Thursday - hours before the inauguration of Donald Trump, who has lashed out at Mexico.

When Guzman got off the plane, "as you looked into his eyes, you could see the surprise, you could see the shock, and to a certain extent, you could see the fear, as the realisation kicked in that he's about to face American justice", said Angel Melendez, who leads US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's homeland security investigations in New York.

The US has been trying to get Guzman in a domestic court since he was first indicted in California in the early 1990s. Now in his late 50s, he faces the possibility of life in a US prison.

Guzman was recaptured a year ago in Mexico after escaping from a maximum-security prison for a second time. The episode was highly embarrassing for President Enrique Pena Nieto's government, and Mexican officials were seen as eager to hand him over to the US.

After breaking out of prison the first time in 2001, Guzman spent more than a decade at large, becoming something of a folk hero among some Mexicans for his defiance of authorities. He was immortalised in ballads known as "narco-corridos".

Captured in 2014, he then made an even more audacious escape, dropping through a hole in the floor of his prison cell shower and riding to freedom on a motorcycle modified to run on tracks laid the length of the tunnel.

Guzman was unapologetic about his criminal activities, saying he had turned to drug trafficking at the age of 15 to survive.

He was ultimately captured after a shootout that killed five of his associates and wounded one marine.


Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News