NEW YORK (AFP) – Emma Coronel Aispuro’s resume is dense: model, social media influencer and fashion designer, small-town beauty queen at 17, wife of Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman a year later.
And now, at age 31, she is a suspected drug trafficker, accused of taking part in the operations of her husband’s cartel, being held in a United States (US) jail after her arrest this week at a Washington airport.
Coronel, 32 years her husband’s junior, has been a source of fascination since she played a key role in the trial of Guzman two years ago in New York, which ended in a life sentence for the powerful leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel.
Tall, with long dark hair, tight-fitting clothes and lots of make-up, Coronel would smile at Guzman and blow him kisses as she attended his trial almost every day for three months.
That was as close as she could get to him. US authorities barred her from visiting Guzman in prison or calling him, and the judge at the trial would not even let them hug to say goodbye when the proceedings ended.
At times she took their twin seven-year-old daughters to the trial so they could see their father. She would post on social media photos of her entering the court building, or working as a model, or skiing.
While Guzman was awaiting trial, Coronel posted on Instagram photos of a posh Barbie-themed birthday bash she threw for the girls.
Guzman is estimated to have amassed a USD14 billion drug empire and neither US nor Mexican authorities ever managed to seize a penny from him.
At one point in the trial a man named Damaso Lopez Nunez, the ex-warden of a Mexican prison who later worked for Guzman but then turned state’s witness, testified that Coronel helped her husband escape from prison in 2015 by riding a motorcycle through a tunnel built under the shower in his cell.
She also helped him plan a second breakout after he was captured a year later, Lopez Nunez testified.
At another point prosecutors presented as evidence text messages in which Guzman asked Coronel to hide his guns as police were preparing a raid.
And there was this, too: an intercepted phone call in which Coronel hands the phone to her father so Guzman can give him advice on smuggling drugs across the border into the US.
So during the trial the obvious question was why prosecutors had not yet charged Coronel. The prosecutors never said, but they were in fact investigating her.
Coronel, who is the niece of Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Coronel, another late boss of the Sinaloa cartel, was born in California but spent most of her life in Mexico.
She has dual nationality.
A few months before Guzman was sentenced in July 2019, Coronel announced on Instagram that she was launching a line of clothing that would carry his name and initials, JGL. “My goal is to project my style and that of Joaquin,” Coronel said at the time.
After Guzman was sent down for life, Coronel appeared on a controversial TV show called Crew Cartel, which followed the lives of relatives of drug lords who were trying to make a clean living.
Coronel has hundreds of thousands of fans. On YouTube there are video classes on how to wear your make-up or hair like she does.
Instagram features several accounts with photos of her, including one created by fans with the slogan “no woman can compete with a queen”.
In public Coronel presented herself as a loyal wife even though Guzman famously cheated on her often.
She never talked about drugs but did not hide her admiration for Guzman, who at the trial was depicted as ruthless with his drug trafficking rivals.
Guzman, she said after the trial, “is an excellent father, friend, brother, son and partner”.