Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Drug kingpin El Chapo sentenced to life in US prison

Joaquin Guzman told the court there was no justice in his sentencing

Once one of the world's most powerful and notorious criminals, Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was jailed for life on Wednesday for crimes spanning a quarter-century.

Guzman, 62, the former co-leader of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in February in a US Federal Court on charges including smuggling hundreds of tonnes of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into America.

The hearing in New York capped a dramatic legal saga and saw Guzman deliver what will probably be his final public words before he is taken to a super-maximum-security federal prison to live out his days.

"There was no justice here," he said, wearing a grey suit, lilac shirt, purple tie and his trademark moustache.

The charges, which also include money laundering and weapons-related offences, carried a mandatory life sentence.

US Federal Judge Brian Cogan tacked a symbolic 30 years on to the sentence and ordered Guzman to pay $12.6 billion (Dh46.28bn) in forfeiture.

The amount was based on a conservative estimate of revenues from his cartel's drug sales in the US. So far, US authorities have not recovered any of his money.

In the Brooklyn courtroom, Guzman said prayers from his supporters had given him "strength to endure this great torture".

He bemoaned an experience that had been "one of the most inhuman that I have ever experienced" and "a lack of respect for my human dignity".

When entering and before leaving the room, he touched his heart and blew a kiss to his wife Emma Coronel, who wore a black and white suit and possibly saw her husband for the last time.

Complaining bitterly that he was unable to hug his twin daughters, who did not attend the hearing, Guzman said: "The US is no better than any other corrupt country that you do not respect."

His nickname "El Chapo" translates to "Shorty", but he is considered to be the most influential drug lord since Colombia's Pablo Escobar, who was killed in a police shootout in 1993.

During the three-month trial in New York, jurors heard evidence from 56 government witnesses who described Guzman beating, shooting and even burying alive those who got in his way, including informants and rival gang members.

Prosecutors won their request to tack on the extra 30 years for the use of firearms in his business.

Mr Cogan said he imposed the additional sentence because the "overwhelming evil is so severe".

A Colombian woman who prosecutors say survived a hit ordered by the kingpin tearfully read a statement in court Wednesday, saying Guzman caused her psychological damage.

"I paid a high price. I lost my family, my friends. I became a shadow without a name," she said.

Guzman launched his career working in the cannabis fields of his home state of Sinaloa.

He will probably spend his remaining years at the "Alcatraz of the Rockies", the federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

Inmates there include "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, British "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and the Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is awaiting execution.

Since his extradition from Mexico in 2017, Guzman has been in solitary confinement at a Manhattan high-security prison.

He repeatedly lamented the conditions of his detention through his attorneys, including that his windowless cell was constantly lit.

"I think he is in a good state of mind right now," Guzman's lawyer William Purpura told AFP before the proceedings adding that his client was "looking forward to his appeal".

But after the sentencing Richard Donoghue, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, vowed Guzman would spend "every minute of every day of his life in a prison here in the US".

"Never again will Guzman pour poison over our borders, making billions while innocent lives are lost to drug violence and drug addiction."

Updated: July 18, 2019 08:40 AM