El Chapo's trial reaches critical point

The main defense argument, as put forth by Guzmán lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman, has been that the real leader of the Sinaloa Cartel is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada

El Chapo's trial reaches critical point
“El Chapo” Guzmán - Photo: Henry Romero/REUTERS
English 28/01/2019 13:16 Reuters Mexico City Brendan Pierson Actualizada 13:16

With federal prosecutors expected to rest their case against Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán on Monday, the lawyers of the Mexican drug lord have given few clues about how they plan to counter three months of testimonies by more than 50 government witnesses.

Among the tough choices they face are whether to call their own witnesses to try to undermine the prosecutors’ evidence and whether Guzmán should take the stand in his own defense. On Friday, one of his attorneys said that they would not reveal the names of any witnesses unless they decided to call them.

“Similarly, we will not disclose Joaquín’s plans about testifying until the time comes to inform the court,” Guzmán lawyer Eduardo Balarezo said in a statement.

Guzmán, 61, the alleged leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, was extradited to the United States in 2017. He has been on trial since November on charges of trafficking vast quantities of cocaine, heroin and other illegal drugs into the country. Prosecutors have called over a dozen former cartel members to testify against him.

The main defense argument, as put forth by Guzmán lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman, has been that the real leader of the Sinaloa Cartel is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and that he bribed the Mexican and U.S. governments to frame Guzmán.

Guzmán’s lawyers have discussed multiple potential witnesses with prosecutors in open court, and have filed a motion suggesting they might call an inmate in the U.S. prison system, but they have not publicly revealed any names.

Lichtman said evidence for the defense’s contention that Zambada framed Guzmán would emerge from the prosecution’s own witnesses, but such testimony largely failed to materialize. Multiple witnesses described Guzmán as either the boss of the cartel or an equal partner with Zambada. The most explosive allegations about bribery came when one witness said Guzmán paid USD $100 million to former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Peña Nieto has denied taking any bribes.

Guzmán’s lawyers have sharply interrogated cooperating witnesses about their past crimes. Under cross-examination, former Guzmán associate, Jorge Cifuentes, admitted traveling the world on forged identification documents; his former communications technician, Christian Rodríguez, admitted not paying taxes on money the U.S. government paid him to cooperate; and Colombian drug lord, Juan Carlos “Chupeta” Ramírez, acknowledged taking part in dozens of murders.

In Guzmán’s case, the strategy may have limits. Much of the evidence against him is intercepted electronic messages in which Guzmán himself appears to discuss drug deals, and his lawyers have not so far challenged their authenticity.

In recent years, Guzmán has sought to make a movie about his life and give an interview to actor Sean Penn for Rolling Stone magazine in 2015. The Brooklyn courtroom could be his biggest stage yet.

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