How El Chapo Became One Of The World's Most Notorious Drug Lords
The highly-anticipated trial of the man credited with 'revolutionising' the drug-trafficking trade began in the U.S. on Tuesday.
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman could spend the rest of his life in prison if a jury finds him guilty of the 17 criminal counts he has been charged with, which include drug-trafficking, money laundering and conspiracy to murder.
In what's been described as an 'unprecedented' trial of the accused former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, opening remarks began in New York amid extraordinary security measures to protect jurors as well as witnesses, some of whom are former cartel members.
Throughout the high-profile trial, which is expected to run for at least four months, jurors will remain anonymous and partially sequestered with armed federal marshals transporting them to and from the court house.
The accused, who has previously made two daring escapes from prison, will be kept in solitary throughout his trial with security expected to be tightened as far as shutting down parts of the Brooklyn bridge while he is escorted by motorcade, CBS reported.
But Tuesday's opening remarks in New York were already delayed after two of the selected jurors dropped out.
It comes following a complex jury selection process during which at least two other potential jurors were removed after citing safety concerns.
A written motion filed by Guzman's lawyers last week over whether to protect juror anonymity reportedly contained a promise from the accused kingpin that he would not have any of the jurors killed.
According to the LA Times one juror was removed last week after admitting Guzman’s promise not to harm jurors made them "anxious".
During their opening remarks, defence lawyers painted Guzman as a "scapegoat" for the real leader of Mexico's infamous Sinaloa Cartel who they claimed had bribed Mexico's president Enrique Pena Nieto for his freedom.
"[Guzman] is blamed for being the leader while the real leaders are living freely and openly in Mexico," lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said.
"In truth he controlled nothing. Mayo Zambada did."
A spokesperson for the president slammed the accusation as "false."
On Tuesday Assistant US Attorney Adam Fels laid out the US government's case, accusing Guzman, 61, of establishing relationships with Colombian cartels that allowed him to make billions of dollars moving cocaine.
He said jurors would see evidence of seized cocaine shipments adding up to "more than a line of cocaine for every single person in the United States".
Fels told jurors that Guzman left a trail of violence, turning parts of Mexico into war zones as he fought rivals to expand his reach.
He said jurors would hear of how Guzman personally shot two members of a rival cartel and ordered them thrown into holes and burned.
From Teenage Beginnings to Global Notoriety
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Guzman became involved in the narcotics-world in the 1970s as a teenager cultivating marijuana and growing poppies for heroin production, before eventually rising to become the head of "the world's largest and most prolific drug trafficking organisation."
Prosecutors claim during his time as leader he was guarded by a virtual army of enforcers and cartel assassins and would also carry a gold-plated AK-47 assault rifle and diamond-encrusted pistol for personal protection.
Guzman made two notorious escapes from prison in 2001 and 2015.
In 2001, 'El Chapo' which is loosely translated to 'Shorty' in English, purportedly made a daring escape from jail at the bottom of a laundry cart, allegedly with the aid of corrupt prison officials.
Fourteen years later, while serving in one of Mexico's toughest maximum security prison, he famously escaped again via a 1.5 kilometre tunnel that emerged in the bathroom of his cell.
Guzman was captured again in 2016 before being extradited to the U.S. in 2017.
According to prosecutors Guzman oversaw the gruesome targeted assassinations, torturing and assaults on his enemies during a string of violent turf battles in Mexico, including a bloody shootout in a crowded nightclub in 1992 which saw six people killed.
'Modern Day Robin Hood'
But for all his rivals, Guzman continues to have many supporters in his home of Mexico, with people taking to the streets in several cities to protest his arrest.
Guzman has seeped into contemporary legends in Mexico emerging as a 'modern-day Robin Hood' credited with protecting poorer communities in the Latin American nation.
Over the years stories and even popular songs have emerged which claim Guzman has supported locals by paying for roads and infrastructure in communities.
Among these stories have emerged even more of his daring alleged drug-trafficking escapades including one instance where Guzman attempted to smuggle seven tonnes of cocaine in cans of jalapeños.
The accused drug-lord has also been credited with 'revolutionising' the drug-trafficking trade and garnered the nickname 'El Rapido' because he could allegedly transport massive drug shipments across the U.S-Mexico border using land, air, sea and even submarine routes in record times.
Department of Justice attorneys have also claimed his tactics involved giving massive bribes to corrupt politicians and security officials, including an alleged $1 million cash bribe for just one drug deal.
Guzman's trial is being held in Brooklyn and is expected to continue into the new year.