A Canadian accused of collaborating with Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman sits in a Caribbean cell fighting furiously for extradition to the United States.
Mykhaylo Koretskyy – also known as "Russian Mike" and "Cobra" – is said to have transported millions of dollars of cocaine to Canada through his ties to El Chapo, the world's largest drug king to Colombia's Pablo Escobar.
The 43-year-old Koretskyy was arrested when he stepped out of a plane on the Dutch territory of Curacao on 3 January 2018, after the authorities on the island had been alerted by a "red announcement" from Interpol.
Since then, he has been fighting to stop his extradition to the United States, where he was charged with cocaine smuggling charges in 2014 in the South District of New York in the United States District Court.
A short line of subject to reverse this indictment lists El Chapo as the Canadian's alleged co-conspirator. The selection of the jury in Guzman's long-awaited study in Brooklyn begins today.
Although Korestkyy's indictment was issued on January 23, 2014, it was not released until January 5, 2018, two days after his arrest in Curacao. Initial media reports suggested that the Ukrainian-born Canadian lived in Toronto. But why he was imprisoned only this year remains a mystery.
The indictment contains no other mention of El Chapo, but Koretskyy is accused of having collaborated with "other known and unknown" between October 2008 and January 2014 to commit an offense "outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States".
Informed sources commenting on the condition of anonymity informed the National Post that the US had long regarded Koretskyy as a major drug dealer working with El Chapo and others.
He is suspected of transferring cocaine from the United States to Canada by hiding it in trucks, and the evidence against him is said to include secret telephone recordings and information provided by human traffickers working with US authorities.
His indictment states that the substance was "five kilograms and more" of cocaine, but according to sources, the drugs suspected of transporting Koretskyy were hundreds of kilograms. With one kilogram of cocaine worth about $ 30,000 in wholesale and much more street-level in the US, such charges would be worth several million dollars.
In addition to Guzman, Hildebrando Alexander Cifuentes Villa, known as "Alex", who comes from a well-known Colombian criminal family long associated with the Medellin Syndicate of Escobar and its successor groups, is one of the persons listed in Koretskyy's sealing order. He was imprisoned in Mexico in 2014.
The indictment states that Koretskyy and other drugs have been distributed, "knowing that such substance would be illegally imported into the United States or into waters within 20 kilometers off the coast of the United States" and that The US also seeks foreclosure of its illegally acquired assets.
For the Canadian authorities, however, the Russian Mike seems to be a ghost.
Police in Toronto say Koretskyy did not hear them while police in Vancouver say they have "no sharing information". The RCMP will only say that he knows media reports about his imprisonment. Global Affairs Canada states that there is no evidence that a Canadian citizen is being held in Curacao.
In court documents Koretskyy is listed with the same lawyer as El Chapo, Jeffrey Lichtman. Lichtman spoke to Guzman with the National Post in recent days, but did not respond to numerous follow-up calls and emails about Koretskyy.
The Manhattan lawyer became famous for his work for mafia scion John "Junior" Gotti, who was charged with murder and fraud but was forced to avoid jail after trial in the mid-2000s. He says the Guzman case is more complicated than the Gotti affair, but "similar to how the jury and the public tend to blame my clients."
El Chapo was delivered to the US in January 2017 after his third capture and second jail since 1993. The allegations in his 17-judge charge concern drug trafficking, $ 14 billion in proceeds of crime, and several killings from the late 1980s to 2014.
According to defense papers, the discovery in El Chapo's case includes 330,000 pages of documents and "tens of thousands of recorded messages." Seventeen new murder conspirators were added against him, the documents say. This almost doubles the original figure of the government. For a process that could take four months, Lichtman and his defense partner Eduardo Balarezo insist that they have not been given enough time.
"He has a very strong legal defense team and is clearly working in all areas to challenge the case they are bringing against him," said David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego, who organized himself Specializes in crime in Mexico. "But the evidence seems pretty damaging. The number of options the prosecution has to prosecute for evidence and testimony is truly overwhelming. "
Jury selection will prove nightmarish as authorities search for civilians who have not seen the Netflix series on the drug lord or read Sean Penn's infamous Rolling Stone article.
"The best case is that they (the defense) identify a technical skill that leads to a problem or a question of interrogation by the people," says Shirk.
Lichtman and Balarezo may cross-examine a number of prosecutors' witnesses. Estimates of how many can be summoned range from more than a dozen to as many as 40. Among the possible prosecutors' witnesses, the Chicago twins Pedro and Margarito Flores may be the most interesting.
From 1998, the brothers maintained a heroin and cocaine distribution at Windy City. From May 2005, she worked with the Mexican cartels Sinaloa and Beltrán-Leyva. In November 2008, they divested US Marshals and turned against their former partners sentences.
Both are now in witness protection and would have good reason not to face El Chapo. Her father was murdered in Mexico in 2009, allegedly as a direct result of the snitching of the brothers.
Most of the evidence is based on the backs of co-operation partners overrunning their own mothers to get out of jail
The rolling-up twins, according to their documented confessions, would transport cocaine and heroin out of Mexico to the north, using "trap" compartments in the roofs of tractor-trailers and in the walls of railroad cars. From Chicago, her crew sent drugs to numerous US cities, including "a major wholesale customer in Vancouver."
They bought their drugs on credit and deprived the Mexicans of up to 2,000 kilos of cocaine per month before being picked up on numerous conversations with people whom they believe are Guzman and other Sinaloa employees.
Regardless of their personal credentials, the transcripts of the alleged conversations with El Chapo and others offer insight into a network of great complexity. They say they sold wholesale El Chapo products to 30 major North American customers. They used an army of connections to move both drugs and money.
"People who work in very specialized industries work in shadow zones with many different groups," says Shirk. "It's about reaching customers through different providers. It's like big companies. Pepsi or Coca-Cola will use every possible supplier to bring their product to the market. "
In addition to the Flores twins, among others, the son of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, Guzman's former antitrust partner of Sinaloa, participate. However, Lichtman says that any criminal who dares to bring El Chapo to justice can not be taken at his word.
"Most of the evidence is based on the backs of employees who attack their own mothers to get out of prison," he says.
After El Chapo's war with the Golf Cartel and Los Zetas for Nuevo Laredo in 2005 and with his friends who became enemies in the Beltrán Leyva cartel and several others for Juarez as of 2008, a relative peace period began in Sinaloa from 2012. But Since El Chapo is out of the game, Shirk says, things have gotten worse, not better.
"The importance of the arrest, extradition, trial and probable condemnation of El Chapo has really put Mexico in a state of turmoil over the past two or three years that we have not seen since 2010," he says.
Today Guzman's sons fight with former allies for control of the Sinaloa cartel, which remains powerful despite El Chapo's extradition. But Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes or "El Mencho", head of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, with a $ 10 million US $ in his head, has replaced El Chapo as the nation's biggest villain.
Bringing Guzman across the border has been announced as a great success, but the war on drugs and gangs begun by President Felipe Calderón in 2006, which was continued by his successor Enrique Peña Nieto, has claimed well over 200,000 lives. When Andrés Manuel López Obrador begins his presidency, one dominant criminal lord was simply replaced by another.
Shirk says, "2018 could be the most violent, because (Jalisco) still sees resistance. It takes a long time for all rivals to be defeated. "
For over a decade, Guzman and his men in military style, based on corrupt state, local, and state offices, have turned Mexico into a bloodbath. Cities such as Nuevo Laredo and Juarez have become synonymous with dismembered bodies and Narcomantasthe macabre, graying painted messages left by a cartel for the others.
I have not been secretive about my client's treatment of my disgust
Does a man accused of monitoring such horrors deserve compassion?
Guzman is a likable man who is often "baffled" as he visits the 10th south wing of the Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan, Lichtman says. The El Chapo of public imagination is a "myth," he stresses.
"I have not been secretive about my disgust at my client's treatment," he adds, claiming Guzman is in a cell for up to 23 hours a day, in which the lights can not be turned off.
El Chapo may have escaped Mexico's strictest coercive measures with insider assistance, but the lawyer jokes that his client would have to pay "300 employees" in the MCC to escape.
"They behave as if they are a threat that breaks out, which is ridiculous when you see their condition, but they do what they can."
Lichtman says he "fought through a million pieces of paper and thousands of phone calls" as the showdown begins in Brooklyn. "I'll work until the bell rings."
For Koretskyy it is much slower. He is not expected to be extradited when Guzman takes place before Judge Brian Cogan and the jury.
The United States formalized an extradition request on April 24, and Curacao agreed in May. However, as the island is a Dutch territory, Koretskyy has appealed to the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. The process usually takes up to nine months.
"He does not want to be extradited," said one official. "He fights it by every possible means."