Accused Mexican drug lord ‘El Chapo’ faces US trial

Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, center, is escorted by the Mexican police as he is extradited to the US in this January 19, 2017 picture. (Interior Ministry of Mexico/AFP)
Updated 05 November 2018
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Accused Mexican drug lord ‘El Chapo’ faces US trial

  • Joaquin Guzman formerly led the Sinaloa Cartel, named after its base in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.
  • Guzman’s lawyers have so far given few hints about their planned defense

NEW YORK: The trial of extradited Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is set to begin on Monday in federal court in Brooklyn, where he is facing drug trafficking and conspiracy charges.
Prosecutors, defense lawyers and US District Judge Brian Cogan will start by choosing jurors for what is expected to be a four-month trial. In a sign of the level of attention on the case, and the notoriety of the defendant, the jury will be kept anonymous.
Guzman, 61, formerly led the Sinaloa Cartel, named after its base in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. US authorities have described the group as one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world.
Guzman’s nickname, a reference to his five-foot, six-inch (1.67 meters) height, is often translated in English as “Shorty.”
He was extradited to the United States from Mexico on Jan. 19, 2017, after escaping twice from Mexican prisons.
A Mexican official told Reuters at the time that the move was a show of goodwill to incoming US President Donald Trump, who was inaugurated the next day, though Alberto Elias Beltran, Mexico’s assistant attorney general for international affairs, denied any connection.
US prosecutors say that as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel since 2003, Guzman directed the movement of multi-ton shipments of drugs including heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine across borders and into the United States. If convicted, Guzman faces life in prison.
According to court filings, prosecution witnesses will include former Sinaloa Cartel members and others involved in the drug trade who are now cooperating with the US government. Prosecutors have so far avoided naming the witnesses, saying that doing so would put them in danger. Some are expected to testify under aliases.
Although the charges in the case all relate to drug trafficking, prosecutors are also expected to introduce evidence that Guzman was involved in multiple murder plots in the course of his career, including in wars with rival cartels.
Guzman’s lawyers have so far given few hints about their planned defense. Eduardo Balarezo, one of the lawyers, said in a court filing that he will seek to prove that Guzman was merely a “lieutenant,” acting at the direction of others.
Mexican authorities captured Guzman and an associate in January 2016 fleeing a raid on a house where he had been staying in northwest Mexico.
A few months earlier, Guzman gave a widely publicized interview to American actor Sean Penn for Rolling Stone magazine in which he said: “I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world.”


Acting Pentagon chief not decided yet on funding US-Mexico border wall

Updated 17 February 2019
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Acting Pentagon chief not decided yet on funding US-Mexico border wall

  • President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval
  • Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners

ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT: Acting US Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said on Saturday he had not yet determined whether a border wall with Mexico was a military necessity or how much Pentagon money would be used.
President Donald Trump on Friday declared a national emergency in a bid to fund his promised wall at the US-Mexico border without congressional approval.
A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Shanahan was likely to approve the $3.6 billion being redirected from the military construction budget.
By declaring a national emergency, Trump can use certain Department of Defense funding to build the wall.
According to the law, the defense secretary has to decide whether the wall is militarily necessary before money from the military construction budget can be used.
“We always anticipated that this would create a lot of attention and since moneys potentially could be redirected, you can imagine the concern this generates,” Shanahan told reporters traveling back with him from his trip to Afghanistan, the Middle East and Europe.
“Very deliberately, we have not made any decisions, we have identified the steps we would take to make those decisions,” Shanahan said.
He added that military planners had done the initial analysis and he would start reviewing it on Sunday.
Officials have said that the administration had found nearly $7 billion to reallocate to the wall, including about $3.6 billion from the military construction budget and $2.5 billion from a Defense Department drug interdiction fund.
The US defense official said Shanahan would meet with the service secretaries in the coming days to pick which specific projects the money should come from.
Shanahan said that planners had identified the different sources of money that could be used, but he had not decided specifically what projects it would impact and ultimately it was his decision.
“I am not required to do anything,” he said.
Shanahan said he did not expect to take money away from projects like military housing.
Poor standards of military housing were highlighted by recent Reuters reporting, which described rampant mold and pest infestations, childhood lead poisoning, and service families often powerless to challenge private landlords in business with their military employers.
“Military housing, what’s been interesting- I’ve received a number of letters, I’ve had lots of feedback, do not jeopardize projects that are underway,” Shanahan said.
“As we step our way through the process, we’ll use good judgment,” Shanahan said.
The Republican president’s move, circumventing Congress, seeks to make good on a 2016 presidential campaign pledge to build a border wall that Trump insists is necessary to curtail illegal immigration.
Within hours, the action was challenged in a lawsuit filed on behalf of three Texas landowners.
“We are following the law, using the rules and we’re not bending the rules,” Shanahan said.