El Chapo’s drug cartel paid US$6 million in bribes to Mexico president Pena Nieto, defence lawyers claim

  • Lawyers say defendant is scapegoat in conspiracy orchestrated by business partner, Mexican presidents and corrupt US drug agents
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2018, 12:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2018, 6:54pm

A key witness at the trial of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will testify that he paid millions of dollars in bribes to the country’s current president, lawyers said in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Jesus Reynaldo Garcia Zambada is expected to say he paid the US$6 million to Enrique Pena Nieto at the behest of his brother, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, the alleged current leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, court transcripts made public on Friday show.

Defence lawyers argue Guzman is a scapegoat in a vast conspiracy orchestrated by his business partner El Mayo – who they say is the true leader of the cartel. Current and former presidents of Mexico and corrupt US drug agents helped El Mayo in the scheme, Guzman’s lawyers claim.

During a private conference on Wednesday that included the prosecution, defence lawyers and Judge Brian Cogan, Guzman’s lawyer William Purpura portrayed his client as a victim. He said El Mayo ran amok, while his partner, El Chapo, was unjustly forced into hiding.

“Mr Guzman is on the run, with a target on his back, in the mountains. And that is who the Mexican government is targeting [at] that point,” Purpura said.

Defence lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman said: “Mayo Zambada kept paying the Mexican government, president after president, two in a row, and somehow he remains free. And who is the one that’s constantly being hunted down? It’s Guzman ... [Officials] were paid off to leave Zambada alone.”

Ray Zambada will say he “paid off, at the request of Mayo, the now incumbent president of Mexico to the tune of six million dollars or more on two separate occasions at a restaurant”, Purpura said.

Prosecutors say Guzman has no proof to back up his claim Mayo Zambada was the real leader of the cartel and Guzman a mere scapegoat.

“There is no evidence that we are aware of that Mayo Zambada bribed the Mexican government for the purpose of keeping the target on the defendant,” said Assistant US Attorney Gina Parlovecchio.

Mayo Zambada, now 70, is believed to be still at large in Mexico.

Pena Nieto took office as Mexico’s president in December 2012. For years before, Pena Nieto was governor of Mexico State, a densely-populated region that mostly surrounds Mexico City.

Because of term limits, Pena Nieto will leave office on December 1. He is to be replaced by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who won an election in July.

El Chapo bribed Interpol, Mexican officials to keep drugs flowing to US, informant says

Guzman, held in solitary confinement since his arrest in January 2017, faces life imprisonment if convicted of drug conspiracy charges.