Drug lord 'El Chapo' gets life sentence in US

NEW YORK • Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the Mexican drug lord found guilty of running a murderous criminal enterprise that smuggled tonnes of drugs into the United States, was sentenced yesterday by a US judge to spend the rest of his life in prison.

US District Judge Brian Cogan imposed the sentence of life plus 30 years, which was mandatory under the law, at a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn.

Guzman, 62, was found guilty by a jury in February of trafficking tonnes of cocaine, heroin and marijuana and engaging in multiple murder conspiracies as a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, long known as one of Mexico's largest and most violent drug trafficking organisations.

Guzman, whose nickname means "Shorty", developed a reputation as a Robin Hood-like figure that made him a folk hero to many in his home state of Sinaloa, where he was born in a poor mountain village.

He is being held in solitary confinement in the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, a fortress-like jail in lower Manhattan.

Judge Cogan last month rejected his request for more time to exercise on the jail's roof, after prosecutors said that would risk an escape. Before he was finally captured in 2016, Guzman twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico. He was extradited to the United States to face trial in January 2017.

Guzman made a name for himself as a trafficker in the 1980s by digging tunnels under the US-Mexico border that allowed him to smuggle drugs more quickly than any of his rivals. He amassed power during the 1990s and 2000s through often bloody wars with rivals, eventually becoming the best-known leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

His 11-week trial, which featured testimonies from more than a dozen former associates who had made deals to cooperate with prosecutors, offered the public an unprecedented look at the cartel's inner workings. The witnesses described how he built a sophisticated organisation reminiscent of a multinational corporation.

US prosecutors have claimed that Guzman sold more than US$12 billion (S$16.3 billion) worth of drugs, and Forbes magazine once listed him among the world's richest men.

Guzman's lawyers have said that they intend to appeal his guilty verdict.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2019, with the headline 'Drug lord 'El Chapo' gets life sentence in US'. Print Edition | Subscribe