El Chapo tells judge he won’t give evidence at US trial

A news crew broadcasts outside Brooklyn federal court Credit: AP Photo/Kevin Hagen

Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has told a judge he will not give evidence in his own defence at his US drug-trafficking trial.

The move ends speculation that he might go for broke and build on a notorious reputation already cemented by the sprawling government case against him.

“Your honour, me and my attorneys have spoken about this and I won’t testify,” Guzman said through a Spanish interpreter in a rare instance of him standing up and speaking in court.

The decision, along with the defence’s plan to call only two brief witnesses, could bring the trial to a sooner-than-expected conclusion. Closing arguments are set to begin Wednesday with deliberations starting as soon as Friday.

Guzman’s lawyers say he is being framed by a cadre of co-operators who were far more culpable in the Sinaloa cartel’s wildly lucrative cocaine-smuggling enterprise.

As the government was finally concluding a case that began in mid-November, an actor who played Guzman on a popular Netflix series caused a minor stir on Monday by showing up in the courtroom as a spectator.

The defendant cracked a smile and waved when Narcos: Mexico cast member Alejandro Edda was pointed out to him, Edda told reporters.

“It was a very surreal moment, I have to be honest,” the actor said.

Surreal was an apt description for many aspects of the government’s case, including evidence from several co-operators that made Guzman’s delight at seeing Edda seem understandable.

Some of the more than 50 government witnesses said Guzman had spoken often of his dream of being portrayed on film or being the subject of an autobiography about his rise to power as the Sinaloa cartel boss.

The highlights of the government case offered plenty of potential material, starting early in the trial with evidence from by a former Sinaloa cartel lieutenant describing how a car carrying Guzman into Mexico City shortly after he escaped prison in 2001 got a police escort by highway officers.

A suspected informant claimed he had survived several attempts on his life ordered by Guzman, including a knife attack at a jail right after he heard a brass band ominously playing a favourite “corrido” folk song of Guzman’s — Un Puno De Tierra — over and over.

A former Colombian kingpin who once supplied the cartel with tons of cocaine, Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, made an impact solely by the way he looked while giving evidence — with his face distorted by an extreme makeover meant to hide his identity.

Ramirez explained that he had undergone at least three plastic surgeries that altered “my jawbone, my cheekbones, my eyes, my mouth, my ears, my nose”.

Enrique Pena Nieto Credit: Alexandre Meneghini/AP

Much of the evidence was devoted to how corrupt Mexican authorities had a voracious appetite for drug money. One co-operator said Guzman paid former president Enrique Pena Nieto 100,000 dollars, a claim Mr Pena Nieto denied.

Guzman was captured in 2015 and escaped jail through a tunnel dug into his prison cell before he was sent in 2017 to the US. He has since been in solitary confinement and would face life in prison if convicted.