US & World

Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán is scapegoat, says defence lawyer

This handout picture released by the Mexican interior ministry shows Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán (centre) escorted by Mexican police officers before his extradition to the US. Photo: January 2017Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was extradited to the US by the Mexican authorities in 2017

The lawyer representing accused Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán at his trial in New York has claimed his client was a “scapegoat”.

He said the real leader of the Sinaloa Cartel was Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who was living openly in Mexico and had bribed the country’s top politicians.

President Enrique Peña Nieto and his predecessor Felipe Calderón issued statements denying this.

Guzmán, 61, faces 17 charges and could be jailed for life if found guilty.

He was arrested in January 2016 after escaping from prison through a tunnel five months earlier.

Prosecutors say the Sinoala cartel is the biggest supplier of drugs to the US.

Key associates, including one of his former lieutenants, are expected to testify against Guzmán.

The trial, which opened on Tuesday amid high security, is expected to last about four months.

What did the defence lawyer say?

Jeffrey Lichtman said about his client: “He’s blamed for being the leader while the real leaders are living freely and openly in Mexico.

“In truth he controlled nothing. Mayo Zambada did.”

The lawyer also said that Zambada had been left alone because he bribed everybody “including the very top, the current president of Mexico and the former”.

President Peña Nieto and Mr Calderón immediately rejected the accusation, with the latter calling it “absolutely false and reckless”.

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