Seeks to strike El Chapo lawyer's opening statement

Elias Hubbard
November 17, 2018

Drug baron Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is the "scapegoat" of a cartel that bribed Mexican presidents, the defense told his NY trial Tuesday, as the prosecution branded him a ruthless criminal boss who murdered in cold blood.

Before Wednesday's testimony, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan admonished Lichtman for using his opening statement to claim, without proof or any relevance, Ismael Zambada remains free because he bribed the current and former presidents of Mexico.

Before summoning the jury into the courtroom, Cogan said he would not strike Lichtman's statement but would instruct jurors to consider only the evidence of Guzman's guilt, not prosecutors' motives or whether they acted improperly.

"Your opening statement handed out a lot of promissory notes that your case is not going to be able to cash", Cogan said.

Drug baron Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman co-headed the Sinaloa cartel, an informant told his United States trial Wednesday, skewering defense claims that he was little more than a scapegoat and spilling the operational secrets of the criminal enterprise.

Prosecutors say that from 1989 to 2014, the Sinaloa cartel smuggled 340,892 pounds (154,626 kilograms) of cocaine into the United States, as well as heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana, raking in $14 billion. "This is a case which will require you to open your minds to the possibility that government officials at the very highest level can be bribed, can conspire to commit awful crimes - that American law enforcement agents can also be crooked". Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and former President Felipe Calderon both dismissed the allegations as completely false.

He is accused of leading the Sinaloa cartel, turning it into the world's largest criminal group and of smuggling enough cocaine "for 328 million lines" - equivalent to more than one per every person in the United States.

Despite his diminutive stature and nickname that means "Shorty" in Spanish, Guzman was once a larger-than-life figure in Mexico who has been compared to Al Capone and Robin Hood and been the subject of ballads known as narcocorridos.

Guzman's trial was expected to resume on Wednesday, and Lichtman could not immediately be reached for comment. He said law enforcement agents had his client autograph $100 bills for them upon his arrest.

"[Zambada] has been allowed to operate for the last 55 years because he pays for it", Mr Lichtman said. "He enjoyed the notoriety". The defense sought to undercut the government's cooperating witnesses, saying that they were murderers who would "make your skin crawl".

On Wednesday, Zambada had identified Guzman in the courtroom and told jurors he "was one of the most powerful drug traffickers in Mexico". He appeared in a dark suit and tie on Tuesday as he listened to Fels describe how he started modestly in the early 1970s by selling marijuana in Mexico, but built his reputation by constructing tunnels across the Mexico-U.S. border to transport marijuana and cocaine so fast that he was "no longer El Chapo, the short one". It was equipped with electric lights and a hydraulic system to lift away flooring that was covered by a pool table.

A defence lawyer for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman on Wednesday named some of the former close associates of the Mexican drug lord - including his alleged head of operations in Central America - who will likely testify against him at a USA trial. Authorities used heavy tools to smash through concrete, he said, only to realize later that it all would have opened up on the Mexican side with the twist of a water faucet valve. "We didn't know the floor came up".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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