The case includes twists and turns that a film director would probably label a bit OTT, so it will come as no surprise that the first week of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s trial threw up numerous shocking moments.
Allegedly Mexico’s “godfather of the drug world”, Guzmán has been part of the Sinaloa cartel for decades and is known for being party to trafficking tonnes of illegal substances into the US – he’s even made the Forbes Power List for making millions from doing so.
Finally in a US court of law, more than 20 years after his first brush with authorities, Guzmán is facing 17 counts related to drug trafficking, including money laundering, kidnap, conspiracy to murder and firearms charges.
Before proceedings even began, there was plenty of drama – with Guzmán being kept in solitary confinement and potential jurors dropping like flies – and now, the first few days of the trial have presented numerous jaw-dropping events. Here are X of the most notable…
Before Things Even Started, A Juror Was Excused
After a lengthy jury selection process that saw more than two dozen potential candidates dismissed, the judge and jury were finally ready to start the trial on Tuesday – but a last-minute bout of anxiety from juror number one put paid to that.
The woman – who had previously voiced fears about taking part in the trial, only to be told by the judge that she had to serve anyway – arrived at the court with a hand-written doctor’s note explaining she could not stay.
Fearful that the unnamed juror (all of those taking part are doing so anonymously in a bid to keep them safe) would have a breakdown, the judge excused her and one of the reserves was chosen to step up. Finally, the trial got underway.
Guzmán Didn’t Get A Hug
Hugs aren’t normally a key feature in drugs trafficking trials but ahead of this one, Guzmán’s lawyers requested that he get the chance to embrace his wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro.
Why? In the run-up to the trial, he’s been kept in solitary confinement for two reasons: 1. In a bid to make sure he doesn’t escape (again) and 2. So that he can’t illegally influence the outcome of court proceedings.
Visitors have also been banned, so he hasn’t seen Coronel Aispuro in weeks. In a letter to the judge, one of his lawyers asked for Guzmán to be granted a few minutes for a “brief momentary greeting to include perhaps an embrace” with her but unfortunately for him, the application was denied.
Coronel Aispuro – a beauty queen who married Guzmán in 2007, when she was 18 – has been there to support him anyway.
The Defence Kicked Things Off With An Incredibly Bold Claim...
Guzmán doesn’t deny being part of the Sinaloa cartel, so his defence hinges on the claim he is not its leader. In his opening remarks, one of Guzmán’s lawyers made numerous claims about the group and told the court it had “bribed the entire government of Mexico including up to the very top, the current president of Mexico”, Enrique Pena Nieto.
The president’s spokesman immediately shot down Jeffrey Lichtman’s claims, but not before the lawyer’s words had already been reported on worldwide.
… And Were Subsequently In Trouble With The Judge
The prosecutors swiftly asked the federal judge to strike the opening statement and tell the jury to disregard it.
They argued Lichtman had tried to improperly to sway the jury by claiming that Guzmán had been selectively targeted for prosecution, an argument the court had barred him from making. They added that his opening argument had been “rife with impropriety” and challenged the comment on the Mexican president, as well as 19 other points he made.
The judge stopped short of striking it, but scolded Lichtman and warned him to stick to the evidence. All in all, it made for a rocky start.
The Scale Of Guzmán’s Alleged Crimes Soon Became Clear
As the prosecution began making their case, it became clear just how huge this trial is.
Plenty has already been written about the Sinaloa cartel, which is known to operate in 17 states and has links to 50 other countries. We also know that Guzmán has made enough money to end up on a Forbes Power List, but with things finally underway, specific allegations came to light.
Among them was the claim that he was at one point receiving 10 to 15 planes “stuffed with cocaine” from Colombia at landing strips in Mexico, for transport to cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York (We’ll get to how he transported it in a second).
The prosecutor also told the Brooklyn court room that in order to facilitate business, Guzmán “sent killers to wipe out competitors” and “waged wars against longtime partners…including his own cousins”.
There Was A Drug Tunnel Tour Video
So, how did the cartel transport tonnes of illegal substances into the US with relative ease? Tunnels.
One of the first videos presented to the jury was a video tour of a tunnel that went from Mexico to Arizona, which was hidden by a pool table that lifted with a hydraulics system on the Mexican end.
It was so big that a 5ft8ins tall man would only need to duck slightly while walking the length of it and had electric lights fitted throughout, with carts being used to move drugs through it quickly.
The prosecution says Guzmán oversaw the creation of this tunnel – and others like it – claiming he was given another nickname, ‘El Rapido’, for the speedy solution to getting cocaine across the border.
Watch the video for yourself below:
A Former Member Of The Cartel Gave Evidence
Numerous members of the cartel are expected to testify against their alleged former boss, after cutting their own deals with the prosecution. The first to do so was 57-year-old accountant, Jesús Zambada.
Arrested in 2008 and still in custody in the US, Zambada claimed he personally paid out around $300,000 a month in bribes while overseeing operations in Mexico City.
Zambada testified that he first became involved in the cartel around 1987, when he developed an accounting system for collecting money from cocaine buyers in the United States, Reuters reports.
His brother, Ismael ′El Mayo’ Zambada, is also a key player in the cartel and Guzmán’s lawyers say he’s the real leader, not their client. ‘El Mayo’ is still at large. They also claim co-operating witnesses like Zambada are liars seeking to reduce their own sentences.