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US court convicts drug kingpin Guzman

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Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is shown shortly after extradition, in New York, January 19, 2017. Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The world’s most infamous cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to amass billions of dollars, was found guilty in a US court on Tuesday of smuggling tons of drugs to the United States over a violent, colourful, decades-long career.

Jurors in federal court in Brooklyn convicted Mr Guzman, 61, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, on all 10 counts brought by US prosecutors.

Richard Donoghue, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said he expected Mr Guzman to receive life without parole when sentenced on June 25. “It is a sentence from which there is no escape and no return,” Mr Donoghue told reporters.

Mr Guzman, one of the major figures in Mexican drug wars that have roiled the country since 2006, become almost legendary for escaping from Mexican high-security jails twice and avoiding massive manhunts. He cultivated a Robin Hood image among the poor in his home state of Sinaloa.

Mr Guzman, whose nickname means “Shorty,” was extradited to the US for trial in 2017 after he was arrested in Mexico the year before.

Though other high-ranking cartel figures had been extradited previously, Mr Guzman was the first to go to trial instead of pleading guilty.

The 11-week trial, with testimony from more than 50 witnesses, offered an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, named for the state in northwestern Mexico where Mr Guzman was born in a poor mountain village.

The US government said Mr Guzman trafficked tonnes of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Small in stature, Mr Guzman’s smuggling exploits, the violence he used and the sheer size of his illicit business made him the world’s most notorious drug baron since Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who was shot dead by police in 1993.

Jeffrey Lichtman, a lawyer for Mr Guzman, told reporters after the verdict that the defence faced an uphill fight, given the amount of evidence the government presented, and the widespread perception that Mr Guzman was already guilty.

“This was a case that was literally an avalanche, avalanche of evidence,” Lichtman said. “Of course we’re going to appeal.”

The most detailed evidence against Mr Guzman came from more than a dozen former associates who struck deals to cooperate with US prosecutors.

They told jurors how the Sinaloa Cartel gained power in the 1990s, eventually coming to control almost the entire Pacific coast of Mexico.

Mr Guzman made a name for himself in the 1980s by building cross-border tunnels that allowed him to move cocaine from Mexico into the United States faster than anyone else.

The witnesses, who included some of Mr Guzman’s top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organisation reminiscent of a multinational corporation.

He sent drugs northward with fleets of planes and boats, and had detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada, the court heard.

Mr Guzman’s attempt to take territory from a rival cartel was one of the main reasons for an explosion of drug violence in Mexico. The Mexican government has registered more than 250,000 homicides since it launched an aggressive war on cartels in 2006. A report by the US Congressional Research Service last year estimated 150,000 of those deaths were tied to organised crime.

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