Drug kingpin El Chapo sentenced to life in US prison

NEW YORK (AFP) – Once one of the world’s most powerful and notorious criminals, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was sentenced to life imprisonment on Wednesday – the mandatory punishment for a host of crimes spanning a quarter-century.

Guzman, the 62-year-old former co-leader of Mexico’s mighty Sinaloa drug cartel, was convicted in February in the United States (US) federal court on a spate of charges, including smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the US.

The much-anticipated hearing in New York capped a dramatic legal saga and saw Guzman – wearing a grey suit, lilac shirt, purple tie and trademark mustache – somberly take in his punishment.

“There was no justice here,” Guzman declared in Spanish, expressing no regret as he delivered what were likely his final public words before he is taken to a supermax federal prison to live out his days.

When entering and before leaving the courtroom, he touched his heart and blew a kiss to his wife Emma Coronel, who was barred from all contact with him during more than two years of pre-trial detention.

The charges against Guzman, which include money laundering and weapons-related offences, carried a mandatory life sentence.

US Federal Judge Brian Cogan tacked 30 years onto the sentence and ordered the drug lord to pay USD12.6 billion in forfeiture – a sum based on a conservative estimate of revenues from his cartel’s sales in the US.

So far, US authorities have not recovered a dime.

In the Brooklyn courtroom, Guzman said prayers from supporters had given him “strength to endure this great torture,” which he called “one of the most inhuman that I have ever experienced… a lack of respect for my human dignity.”

Complaining bitterly that he was unable to hug his twin daughters, who did not attend the hearing, Guzman said “the US is no better than any other corrupt country that you do not respect.”

Guzman – whose moniker “El Chapo” translates to “Shorty” – is considered the most influential drug lord since Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who was killed in a police shootout in 1993.

During his three-month trial in New York, jurors heard evidence from 56 government witnesses, who described the cartel boss beating, shooting and even burying alive those who crossed him, including informants and rival gang members.

Prosecutors won their request to tack on a symbolic extra 30 years in prison for the use of firearms in his business, which Cogan said he imposed because the “overwhelming evil is so severe”.