Plans to kill an anti-drug czar and the names of two senior government officials who accepted million-dollar bribes are among the revelations so far this week at the trial of former drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
A former Sinaloa Cartel operations chief said Guzmán wanted to kill the federal government’s top anti-drugs prosecutor in 2005 because he wouldn’t accept bribes, a key prosecution witness said yesterday.
Jesús Zambada, who is providing insider testimony about the accused’s alleged criminal activities, told jurors that Guzmán and his brother and current cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada planned to kill José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos because “he didn’t cooperate with anyone.”
The former drug czar, who worked for the federal Attorney General’s office (PGR), was respected and feared by everyone because he wouldn’t accept cartel money, Zambada said.
The ex-cartel member told the court that he was asked to participate in the murder plot by helping to locate Santiago and “providing security to the gunmen” tasked with killing him.
Zambada said that he initially agreed to the request but after asking his brother’s chief sicario, or hitman, how he planned to kill the official, he backed away from his commitment because “what they were going to do didn’t seem right.”
The witness said that his brother later told him to forget about the plan.
Santiago was eventually killed in November 2008 when a government aircraft in which he was traveling crashed in Mexico City. Juan Camilo Mouriño, federal interior secretary at the time, also died in the accident.
In court today, Zambada began naming names. He said he gave US $6 million to Genaro García Luna in the mid-2000s when García was Mexico’s head of security and made other million-dollar payments to Gabriel Regino, who was head of security in Mexico City when president-elect López Obrador was mayor.
García, now a consultant and partner in a company that evaluates risk and security, has made no public response to the accusation.
Regino denied the allegation with a reply on Twitter and declared he was prepared to testify to his innocence before any national or foreign authority. He now works as a criminal lawyer and teaches at the National Autonomous University of México.
In the Brooklyn federal court yesterday, Guzman’s defense team once again portrayed Zambada as a liar who has agreed to frame their client in exchange for a reduction in his own prison sentence.
William Purpura, a lawyer for the infamous 61-year-old ex-capo, attempted to discredit the testimony Zambada has given.
Last Wednesday, he identified El Chapo as “one of the most powerful drug traffickers in Mexico” and spilled secrets on the inner workings of the lucrative trafficking operation that allegedly shipped billions of dollars’ worth of drugs to the United States under Guzmán’s leadership.
He continued his testimony the next day, telling jurors that the Sinaloa Cartel paid regular bribes – in dollars – to high-ranking police officers and officials at all three levels of government.
He has also provided intimate details about the Sinaloa Cartel’s violent turf wars with rival gangs. Yesterday, Zambada said that Chapo was always armed, either with a diamond-encrusted pistol or an AK-47 assault rifle.
During his attempts to convince the jury that Zambada couldn’t be trusted, Purpura said it was curious that the only people who could corroborate much of the evidence Zambada has given are dead.
Guzmán, who was extradited to the United States in January 2017 and has been kept in solitary confinement in a Manhattan prison cell ever since, has pleaded not guilty to 17 counts of drug trafficking, conspiracy, firearms offenses and money laundering.
If convicted, he faces possible life in prison. The trial, which has been held under extraordinarily tight security, continues today.