Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, after his capture and extradition to the US.  Picture: AP
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, after his capture and extradition to the US. Picture: AP

El Chapo ‘ordered hits on his own family’

Mexico's most infamous drug lord allegedly ordered hits on his own family members, prosecutors have claimed.

Federal prosecutor Adam Fels recounted how Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera allegedly ordered hits on his own loved ones and used a small private army - consisting of hundreds of men "armed with assault rifles" - to take out his rivals.

"He ordered his hit men to locate, kidnap, torture, interrogate, shoot and kill those rivals," Mr Fels said. "Not even Guzman's own family members were immune."

Major roads were shut in and out of New York amid "unprecedented" security for the trial of notorious gangster and repeated escape artist El Chapo, which is Mexican slang for "Shorty".

Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, known as El Chapo,  faces life in prison if found guilty after an anticipated four-month trial.
Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, known as El Chapo, faces life in prison if found guilty after an anticipated four-month trial.

On the second day of the trial, US District Judge Brian Cogan admonished Guzman's lawyer after an opening statement that riled Mexican presidents by accusing them of taking bribes.

Defence lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said his client - who has been in solitary confinement in a maximum security Manhattan jail cell for the past 21 months - was not capable of running the Sinaloa empire because he was either in jail or hiding from authorities during the period over which he is charged with running a conspiracy.

According to Mr Lichtman, the real criminal mastermind is Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada - current leader of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel. The lawyer described the 70-year-old former poppy-field worker as "the biggest drug trafficker in Mexico."

"[Zambada] has been allowed to operate for the last 55 years because he pays for it," Mr Lichtman said. "He bribes the current president of Mexico and for good measure, the previous one as well." "The US government pretends to want him. But somehow they can't figure out where he is."

Mexico's President Felipe Calderon.  Picture:  Supplied
Mexico's President Felipe Calderon. Picture: Supplied

 

Former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto.  Picture:  Supplied
Former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto. Picture: Supplied

Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon said on Twitter those allegations are "absolutely false and reckless."

A spokesman for current President Enrique Pena Nieto called the bribery claim "false and defamatory."

Judge Cogan admonished Mr Lichtman for having gone "far afield of direct or circumstantial proof."

He said he would instruct the jury to focus on the evidence.

"Your opening statement handed out a promissory note that your case is not going to cash," the judge said, calling Mr Lichtman's opening misleading.

Accused of dozens of murders and building a billion dollar fortune by becoming the largest smuggler of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin into the United States, the former Sinaloa cartel chief, Guzman, faces life in prison if found guilty after an anticipated four month trial.

Emma Coronel, centre, the wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman leaves court after opening arguments in the trial of the Mexican drug lord. Picture: AP
Emma Coronel, centre, the wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman leaves court after opening arguments in the trial of the Mexican drug lord. Picture: AP

Prosecutors began the second day of the trial by giving jurors a video tour of a tunnel between Mexico and an Arizona warehouse.

Retired US Customs Agent Carlos Salazar testified as the first witness in Guzman's trial. Mr Salazar described raids carried out on both sides of the border in May 1990.

The tunnel was half the length of a football field and big enough that a 5-foot-8 inch man barely had to lower his head to walk through it.

It had electric lights and a hydraulic system to lift away flooring that was covered by a pool table.

The prosecution says Guzman used tunnels to speed drug deliveries to America. Authorities say tonnes of cocaine were rolled through on carts.

In this courtroom sketch, El Chapo sits next to his defence attorney Eduardo Balazero. Picture: Elizabeth Williams via AP
In this courtroom sketch, El Chapo sits next to his defence attorney Eduardo Balazero. Picture: Elizabeth Williams via AP

Earlier, Federal prosecutor Adam Fels said jurors will be shown text messages proving Guzman was the mastermind behind tonnes of cocaine smuggled to America.

"For 25 years he sent massive quantities of drugs and ran a vast narcotics empire," Mr Fels said.

"El Chapo had his own private army with assault weapons for his protection and he even had a diamond encrusted handgun with his initials and a gold plated AK-47. He controlled Sicarios and ordered them to kill, and sometimes he did the killings himself."

In his opening statement Mr Fels told of Guzman's modest beginnings selling marijuana in Mexico and how he had devised a much-copied method of tunnelling beneath North America's southern border to smuggle narcotics to the US.

He also used planes and developed strong relationships with Colombian cartels in order to cut delivery times and ensure supply.

"He played a critical role in the supply chain," Mr Fels said.

"Soon he was using more tunnels, planes, trains, cars, fishing boats and even submarines."

Guzman's defence is arguing for acquittal, saying he has been framed.

Prosecutors allege Guzman is one of the key protagonists in Mexico's deadly drug wars, which have cost more than a hundred thousands of lives.

In their 17 count indictment, they allege that over three decades he murdered dozens and imported tonnes of drugs into the US. They have also charged him with continuing criminal enterprise, otherwise known as the "kingpin statute", for which he would receive life imprisonment if found guilty.

Mexico, which had been embarrassed by El Chapo's repeated escapes, agreed to extradite Guzman to the US two years ago when prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty.

He is being transported to and from the trial in an armoured caravan that closes the Brooklyn Bridge and the courthouse was bristling with security.

"In some ways, this case is unprecedented," Judge Cogan recently wrote in a recent ruling. "The amount of public attention has been extraordinary."

Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of El Chapo, sits in  the courtroom. Picture: Elizabeth Williams via AP
Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of El Chapo, sits in the courtroom. Picture: Elizabeth Williams via AP


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