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Drug lord 'El Chapo' sentenced to life in prison

July 17, 2019

The Mexican drug lord was handed a life sentence plus 30 years in a New York court. The leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel had escaped jail in Mexico twice, and was extradited to the US in 2017.

Mexiko, Mexiko City: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman
Image: picture-alliance/AP/E. Verdugo

Mexican drug lord "El Chapo" has been sentenced to life in jail in New York.

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who had headed the notorious Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, was on trial for murder conspiracy and a number of drug charges. Judge Brian Cogan sentenced him to life plus 30 years in jail on Wednesday.

Cogan said there was a "mountain range of evidence" against him and that he had committed "evil" deeds. 

The court also ruled that he would have to pay back $12.6 billion (€11.2 billion), which it is estimated he took from his dealings over around 25 years.

Woman walks through crowd of journalists
El Chapo's wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, attended the sentencing in Brooklyn, New York. Image: Reuters/B. McDermid

Industrial-level smuggling

"El Chapo" had been found guilty of masterminding an industrial-level smuggling criminal gang in February. 

The Mexican authorities agreed to extradite him to the US in 2017, on the condition that he would not face the death penalty in court. He had previously escaped high-security prisons in Mexico twice, once by digging a mile-long tunnel from his cell.

"El Chapo" has since been transferred to the high security venue in lower Manhattan, New York. The news agency Reuters called the Metropolitan Correctional Center a "fortress-like jail."

Experts predict he will later be sent to the maximum-security Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Inmates at the jail spend 23 hours alone a day.

A high security jail
El Chapo is likely to be sent to Supermax prison in Colorado. Having escaped Mexican high security jail twice, the judge said he was not allowed to spend extra time exercising on the jail roof, as this could lead to an attempted escapeImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Connolly

200 tons of cocaine

The court said it took testimony from more than a dozen former Sinaloa cartel associates, including a former mistress and a lieutenant, during the 11-week-long trial. They detailed how he owned numerous boats and planes, which he used to transport drugs across the border. Another witness said El Chapo had bribed Mexico's ex-president, Enrique Pena Nieto, with $100 million.

El Chapo became notorious in the 1980s for the tunnels he dug across the US-Mexico border, which allowed him to transport drugs quickly. 

Prosecutors had alleged in February that El Chapo was responsible for trafficking over 200 tons of cocaine into the US.

Read more: The man, the myth: 'El Chapo's' drug dealings

Police escort El Chapo across an airport
The Mexican government agreed to El Chapo's extradition to the US in 2017Image: Reuters/T. Bravo

Mental torture

El Chapo's defense lawyers had tried to delay the verdict before trial, arguing that members of the jury had read news reports about the court case while they were at court. This would be illegal under US law.

 El Chapo said during the trial his time in solitary confinement was akin to "mental torture." Judge Cogan had in June rejected his plea for more time to exercise on the jail roof — prosecutors argued this would risk him escaping.

The Sinaloa Cartel retains the "greatest criminal drug threat to the United States," according to a 2018 report by the US Drug Enforcement Association

jns/ng (AFP, dpa)

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