Accused Mexican drug lord ‘El Chapo’ faces U.S. trial

US

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The trial of extradited Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is set to begin on Monday in federal court in Brooklyn, where he is facing drug trafficking and conspiracy charges.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, where Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s trial will be held, is pictured in the Brooklyn borough of New York, New York, U.S., October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Prosecutors, defense lawyers and U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan will start by choosing jurors for what is expected to be a four-month trial. In a sign of the level of attention on the case, and the notoriety of the defendant, the jury will be kept anonymous.

Guzman, 61, formerly led the Sinaloa Cartel, named after its base in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. U.S. authorities have described the group as one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world.

Guzman’s nickname, a reference to his five foot, six inch (1.67 meters) height, is often translated in English as “Shorty.”

He was extradited to the United States from Mexico on Jan. 19, 2017, after escaping twice from Mexican prisons.

A Mexican official told Reuters at the time that the move was a show of goodwill to incoming U.S. President Donald Trump, who was inaugurated the next day, though Alberto Elias Beltran, Mexico’s assistant attorney general for international affairs, denied any connection.

U.S. prosecutors say that as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel since 2003, Guzman directed the movement of multi-ton shipments of drugs including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine across borders and into the United States. If convicted, Guzman faces life in prison.

According to court filings, prosecution witnesses will include former Sinaloa Cartel members and others involved in the drug trade who are now cooperating with the U.S. government. Prosecutors have so far avoided naming the witnesses, saying that doing so would put them in danger. Some are expected to testify under aliases.

Although the charges in the case all relate to drug trafficking, prosecutors are also expected to introduce evidence that Guzman was involved in multiple murder plots in the course of his career, including in wars with rival cartels.

Guzman’s lawyers have so far given few hints about their planned defense. Eduardo Balarezo, one of the lawyers, said in a court filing that he will seek to prove that Guzman was merely a “lieutenant,” acting at the direction of others.

Mexican authorities captured Guzman and an associate in January 2016 fleeing a raid on a house where he had been staying in northwest Mexico.

A few months earlier, Guzman gave a widely publicized interview to American actor Sean Penn for Rolling Stone magazine in which he said: “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.”

Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Anthony Lin and Susan Thomas

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