"The little one" is one of the biggest criminals in the world. Joaquín Guzmán has earned billions as a drug lord – now the trial against him begins in New York. The 61-year-old Mexican, known as "El Chapo" for his small size, faces a life imprisonment. Fearing attacks by Guzmán's criminal allies, the court has strict security. Even the Brooklyn Bridge was to be barred for transporting the Mexican to court.
The public prosecutor's bill is long: "El Chapo" is said to have been the head of the notorious Mexican Sinaloa cartel the most powerful drug traffickers in the world. Between 1989 and 2014, he and his accomplices smuggled around 155 tonnes of cocaine into the United States. Heroin, crystal meth and marijuana were also part of the organization's product range. The prosecutors estimate that Guzmán and his cartel have earned more than $ 14 billion.
"I deliver more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anyone else in the world," boasted El Chapo in 2015 in a conversation with actor Sean Penn, who was criticized for this interview by US politicians.
"El Chapo" is sitting in the high security prison in Manhattan
In addition, the Mexicans are accused of arms trafficking and money laundering, 33 murders have been commissioned. But the real number is likely to be much higher: two years ago, the prosecutor brought him in connection with a total of 3000 murders. To simplify the process, the number of charges has been reduced.
Since the Mexican government handed over Guzmán to the United States in 2017, he is sitting in the high security prison in Lower Manhattan. Judge Brian Cogan is still facing a major threat from "El Chapo" and his cronies. Not without reason: the drug lord from prisons in Mexico was twice able to break out. In 2001, he fled in a car with dirty laundry, In 2015, he escaped through a tunnel in the shower. In addition, the judge of the Mexican criminal case against him 2016 shot while jogging.
The drug lord pleads "not guilty"
Such incidents want to avoid the Americans. That's why the four-month mammoth trial is taking place behind closed doors in a Brooklyn district court. On Monday, the selection of the twelve jurors and their six replacement candidates should open the proceedings. The jury remains anonymous and is escorted to the court by security officials on each trial day.
Guzmán's former business associates, former stooges and rivals who are informants and witnesses to the trial, are also under protection. Many have already started a new life as part of the witness protection program with a new identity. Their statements are crucial to the process. Because the drug boss himself pleads "not guilty". His lawyer, Rob Heroy, lacks the evidence for the charges: Nobody has pictures of Guzmán cocaine slipping into the US and taking "suitcases with money," he said before the trial began.
If convicted, Guzmán faces life imprisonment. The death penalty is barred after an agreement between Mexico and the United States. The life of the drug lord would continue then as in the past two years: In Manhattan sits "El Chapo" in his 15-square-meter, windowless cell in solitary confinement. He is only allowed to receive his three lawyers and his two daughters – behind a thick pane of glass. There are exceptions when he walks on the treadmill every day for an hour. His wife, the 29-year-old former beauty queen Emma Coronel, receives no permission to visit.
He was considered the "public enemy number one" of the United States
Guzmán resembles in the drug war – which continues without him – a hunting trophy. His worldwide reputation can be compared with that of the drug baron Pablo Escobar, who was killed in 1993. He himself says that he entered the drug trade at the age of 15. For him, that was the only way to "buy and survive food," he told Sean Penn. In Mexico, "El Chapo" attempted to build an image as a modern Robin Hood, helping the poor. In the US, the Chicago Crime Commission declared him "public enemy number one".
Lawyers estimate that the trial of Guzmán could become the most expensive in US history. Even with a long imprisonment for "El Chapo" the drug war in Mexico is likely to continue: Guzmán's sons are said to continue the drug empire of their father according to the US prosecutor.
with AFP / dpa