TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -A lawyer for accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman told a New York jury in opening remarks that his client was a scapegoat for the real leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
“He’s blamed for being the leader while the real leaders are living freely and openly in Mexico,” attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said on the first day of Guzman’s trial for drug smuggling in Brooklyn federal court, which is expected to last up to four months. “In truth he controlled nothing. Mayo Zambada did.”
Lichtman also said that Zambada had been left free because he “bribes the entire government of Mexico including up to the very top, the current president of Mexico,” Enrique Pena Nieto.
Pena Nieto’s spokesman said of the accusation: “That is false.”
Lichtman’s statement came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fels laid out the U.S. government’s case, describing how prosecutors would prove that Guzman rose from a low-level marijuana trafficker in the 1970s to lead the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.
Fels said that Guzman, 61, eventually established relationships with Colombian cartels that allowed him to make billions of dollars moving cocaine. He said jurors would see evidence of seized cocaine shipments adding up to “more than a line of cocaine for every single person in the United States.”
Fels told jurors that Guzman left a trail of violence, turning parts of Mexico into war zones as he fought rivals to expand his reach. He said jurors would hear of how Guzman personally shot two members of a rival cartel and ordered them thrown into holes and burned.
Guzman faces 17 criminal counts and a possible life sentence if he is convicted.
The prosecutors’ witnesses are expected to include former Guzman associates who are now cooperating with the U.S. government in exchange for more favorable treatment, likely including Zambada’s brother Jesus “El Rey” Zambada and son Vicente Zambada.
Lichtman spent much of his opening statement attacking their credibility.
“Why is the government going so far in this case using these gutter human beings as the evidence?” he asked. “It’s because the conviction of Chapo Guzman is the biggest prize this prosecution could ever dream of.”
Lichtman urged jurors to “keep an open mind” and consider that both Mexican and U.S. law enforcement could be corrupt.
“They work together when it suits them, Mayo (Zambada) and the United States government,” he said.