Crime lords: End of the road

Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera being escorted to a helicopteron Friday to be transferred to the prison in Mexico he escaped from last year.
Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera being escorted to a helicopteron Friday to be transferred to the prison in Mexico he escaped from last year.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

One is the world's most wanted kingpin, the other, a ruthless gangster

Notorious Mexican drug lord recaptured in bloody raid

MEXICO CITY • He became a byword for government incompetence, a figure who seemed invincible after he burrowed his way out of the country's most secure prison.

But on Friday, nearly six months after his escape, Joaquin Guzman Loera, the Mexican drug lord known as El Chapo, was captured again after a fierce gun battle near the coast in his home state of Sinaloa, Mexican officials said.

"Mission accomplished: We have him," President Enrique Pena Nieto announced.

The arrest ended one of the government's most extensive manhunts, involving every law enforcement agency in the country and help from the United States. But it was the marines, Mexico's most trusted military force, who captured the fugitive in an early morning raid that left five people dead, Mexican authorities said.


Hours after he was recaptured, El Chapo was flown back to the maximum-security prison from which he escaped in July. Wearing a black shirt and sweatpants, the world's most wanted kingpin was frogmarched by two marines and hauled into a military helicopter at Mexico City's international airport.

"Guzman Loera will be taken again to the Altiplano" prison, some 90km west of Mexico City, Attorney-General Arely Gomez told reporters right before Guzman boarded the helicopter with an associate who was arrested with him.

For years, the world's most wanted drug lord used tunnels to smuggle billions of dollars worth of drugs into the US and to evade capture - until Mexico's government got wise to his game.

After tracking Guzman down to a house in Sinaloa, marines chased the head of the infamous Sinaloa Cartel and his chief assassin through a drain and then nabbed them as they tried to flee by car.

Security forces had identified a tunnel expert in Guzman's circle who was outfitting houses in Sinaloa, and that helped lead to the drug baron's capture, Mr Gomez said. Guzman also slipped up, and his yearning for the silver screen helped bring him down.

"Another important aspect which helped locate him was discovering Guzman's intention to have a biographical film made. He contacted actresses and producers, which was part of one line of investigation," Mr Gomez said.

The drug lord's capture concludes a deeply embarrassing chapter for the government of Mr Pena Nieto, which has been waylaid by a series of security and corruption scandals that reached their low point with Guzman's daring escape.

Now, a looming question is whether Mexican authorities will try to hold Guzman for a third time - he has already escaped from prison twice - or whether they will hand him over to the Americans.

Mexican officials are debating the issue. Some are arguing for a "fast-track" extradition that could put him in the US quickly, while others want to continue a previous process that could take months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

Guzman is facing indictments in at least seven US courts on charges that include narcotics trafficking and murder. He is one of the richest drug dealers in history: Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at close to US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion).

In a statement on Friday, US Attorney-General Loretta Lynch, commended the Mexican authorities "who have worked tirelessly in recent months to bring Guzman to justice". But she did not directly answer the extradition question.

"The US Department of Justice is proud to maintain a close and effective relationship with our Mexican counterparts, and we look forward to continuing our work together to ensure the safety and security of all our people," she said.


Gang leader in San Francisco found guilty

SAN FRANCISCO • San Francisco gangster Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow has been found guilty on dozens of charges, including ordering the murder of a Chinatown rival, a US Department of Justice spokesman said.

A federal jury found Chow, 56, guilty on all 162 counts after two days of deliberations, Mr Abraham Simmons, a spokesman for the US Attorney's Office in San Francisco, said on Friday. Chow was said to have run a criminal organisation in the city that dealt in drugs and laundered money.

An FBI officer removing evidence from the Ghee Kung Tong building in San Francisco's Chinatown in a raid in 2014 that netted several people including Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow. PHOTO: REUTERS

Mr Tony Serra, a lawyer for Chow, said his defence team was in a state of "pain and anguish" after the verdict, particularly because the US government relied on several witnesses who pleaded guilty to crimes themselves. "It was trial by snitch, and the jury somehow believed these snitches," he said.

Chow was accused of being the "dragonhead" of Chinatown's Ghee Kung Tong, a Chinese fraternal organisation that federal agencies suspect has a criminal component, according to an indictment.

Prosecutors contended that Chow ordered the 2006 murder of Ghee Kung Tong official Allen Leung in Mr Leung's import/export shop in a dispute over money, according to court filings.

During the trial, a prosecutor told jurors that Chow ordered Mr Leung's death and led other criminal activities "like something straight out of The Godfather".

Chow was also charged with conspiring to kill an alleged gang rival, Jim Tat Kong.

The prosecutors said he turned Ghee Kung Tong into a violent gang that trafficked in narcotics, stolen goods, bullet-proof vests and guns, reported The Los Angeles Times.

The charges included 125 counts of money laundering, conspiring to deal in illegal sales of goods, aiding and abetting the laundering of proceeds from narcotic sales and engaging in illegal cigarette sales.

In addition to witnesses, the government played several recorded conversations for the jury in which Chow accepted money from an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent for purported illegal activity.

The jury heard the testimony of "Dave Jordan", the alias used by the FBI agent, who posed as an East Coast businessman with mob ties and as a devoted admirer of Chow, collected during three years of secretly recorded conversations, including recordings in which Chow appeared to express hostility towards his rivals, reported SFGate, the sister website of the San Francisco Chronicle.

On the witness stand, Chow said he had previously been involved with a gang and dealt in drugs, but claimed he had since renounced crime. He also rejected the allegation that he had killed Mr Leung, asserting: "I am innocent on that. "

He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 23 and faces a mandatory life sentence for the murder conviction. He also faces additional time for the other charges, the US Attorney's Office said.

Chow was arrested in 2014 with several others, including Leland Yee, a former Democratic state senator who has pleaded guilty to racketeering.

Chow is a long-time fixture in San Francisco's Chinatown. In 2000, he testified against his former gang and served a prison sentence.

His lawyers have said that he reformed after his release from prison, but prosecutors contend that he assumed power in Chinatown and directed criminal activity.

Mr Serra said he expected an appeal against the verdict, and that Chow was calm. "His words to me were, in essence, 'We'll win on the second round'," Mr Serra said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Crime lords: End of the road '. Print Edition | Subscribe