Mexico’s ‘El Chapo’ found guilty in U.S. drug trial

FILE PHOTO: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The world’s most infamous cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who rose from poverty in rural Mexico to run a global drug empire and amass billions of dollars, was found guilty in a U.S. court on Tuesday of drug trafficking.

Jurors in federal court in Brooklyn found Guzman, 61, guilty on all 10 counts. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison.

One of the major figures in Mexican drug wars that have roiled the country since 2006, Guzman was extradited to the United States for trial in 2017 after he was arrested in Mexico the year before.

Guzman sat and showed no emotion while the verdict was read. Once the jury left the room, he and his wife put their hands to their hearts and gave each other the thumbs up sign.

Though other high-ranking cartel figures had been extradited previously, Guzman was the first to go to trial instead of pleading guilty.

The trial, which featured testimony from more than 50 witnesses, offered the public an unprecedented look at the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, named for the state in northwestern Mexico where Guzman was born in a poor mountain village.

The legend of Guzman was burnished by two dramatic escapes he made from Mexican prisons and by a “Robin Hood” image he cultivated among Sinaloa’s poor.

U.S. prosecutors said he trafficked tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States over more than two decades, consolidating his power in Mexico through murders and wars with rival cartels.

Small in stature, Guzman’s nickname means “Shorty.” His smuggling exploits, the violence he used and the sheer size of his illicit business made Guzman the world’s most notorious drug baron since Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, who was shot dead by police in 1993.

Guzman’s lawyers say he was set up as a “fall guy” by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a powerful drug lord from Sinaloa who remains at large.

In a statement after the verdict, lawyers for El Chapo said they were “obviously disappointed” but respectful of the jury’s decision. “We were faced with extraordinary and unprecedented obstacles in defending Joaquin, including his detention in solitary confinement,” the statement said.


Mexico has been mired for 12 years in a deadly military-led war against drug gangs. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected last year after promising a change, suggesting a negotiated peace and amnesty for non-violent drug dealers, traffickers and farmers.

The most detailed evidence against Guzman came from more than a dozen former associates who struck deals to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors.

Through them, jurors heard how the Sinaloa Cartel gained power amid the shifting allegiances of the Mexican drug trade in the 1990s, eventually coming to control almost the entire Pacific coast of Mexico.

They heard how Guzman made a name for himself in the 1980s as “El Rapido,” the speedy one, by building cross-border tunnels that allowed him to move cocaine from Mexico into the United States faster than anyone else.

The witnesses, who included some of Guzman’s top lieutenants, a communications engineer and a onetime mistress, described how he built a sophisticated organization reminiscent of a multinational corporation, with fleets of planes and boats, detailed accounting ledgers and an encrypted electronic communication system run through secret computer servers in Canada.

A former bodyguard testified that he watched Guzman kill three rival drug cartel members, including one victim who he shot and then ordered to be buried even as he was still gasping for air.

Estimates of how much money Guzman made from drugs vary. In 2009, Forbes Magazine put him on its list of the world’s richest people, with an estimated $1 billion. It later dropped him from the list, saying it was too difficult to quantify his assets.

The U.S. Justice Department said in 2017 it sought forfeiture of more than $14 billion in drug proceeds and illicit profits from Guzman.

The trial also featured extensive testimony about corruption in Mexico, most of it involving bribes to law enforcement, military and local government officials so the cartel could carry out its day-to-day drug shipping operations undisturbed.

The most shocking allegation came from Guzman’s former top aide Alex Cifuentes, who accused former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto of taking a $100 million bribe from Guzman. A spokesman for the ex-president has denied the claim.

In one of the trial’s final days, Guzman told the judge he would not testify in his own defense. The same day, he grinned broadly at audience member Alejandro Edda, the Mexican actor who plays Guzman in the Netflix drama “Narcos.”

Despite his ties to government officials, Guzman often lived on the run. Imprisoned in Mexico in 1993, he escaped in 2001 hidden in a laundry cart and spent the following years moving from one hideout to another in the mountains of Sinaloa, guarded by a private army.

He was seized and imprisoned again in 2014, but pulled off his best known escape the following year when he disappeared into a tunnel dug into his cell in a maximum security prison.

But the Mexican government says he blew his cover through a series of slip ups, including an attempt to make a movie about his life. He was finally recaptured in January 2016 following a shootout in Sinaloa.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson, Tina Bellon and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)

U.N. rights team warns Mexico of ‘crisis’ in journalists’ safety

U.N. rights team warns Mexico of 'crisis' in journalists' safety

By Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The United Nations said on Monday the Mexican government is struggling to keep journalists safe and prosecute their oppressors, after officials toured regions of the country that are among the most dangerous in the world for reporters.

Mexican federal prosecutors have yet to secure any convictions for crimes against reporters due to ineffective probes and scant resources, said the U.N.’s special rapporteur for freedom of expression, David Kaye, and his counterpart from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Edison Lanza.

They released a preliminary report describing a “profound crisis of safety” after a week-long tour of Mexico City and the violent states of Veracruz, Guerrero, Tamaulipas and Sinaloa, and plan to release detailed recommendations in the spring.

“Past prosecutors didn’t have the same political will to actually get the job done,” said Kaye, expressing cautious hope that current prosecutors will do more to address the problem.

“There’s a bit more attention to getting this done right. I hope what we heard wasn’t just words because we are here,” he added after the two met with 250 reporters on their trip.

A news photographer in the state of San Luis Potosi last October was the 11th journalist murdered so far this year, according to advocacy group Article 19, equaling the death toll in 2016, which was the bloodiest year for journalists on record in Mexico.

Murders are on track to reach a record high this year, as Mexico continues grappling with turf wars between violent drug gangs that have convulsed the country for more than a decade.

In the past 17 years, 111 journalists have been killed in Mexico, 38 of them under the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Kaye said the prosecutor’s office tasked with investigating attacks on reporters, formed in 2006, needs to deter such crimes by committing substantial resources to solving a single high-profile case, or a handful of them.

“Until that happens, there will be very little prevention, and very little ending of this cycle of violence,” Kaye said.

He and Lanza also said Mexico’s government must devote more funding and staff to a journalist protection program launched in 2012, taking measures such as daily monitoring of the situation in states where reporters are most at risk, and helping them to continue to work if they are forced to leave their homes.

“It has an amount of money that’s absurdly insufficient for the emergency that it’s facing,” Lanza said.

(Editing by Dave Graham and Leslie Adler)

Philippines’ Duterte says police can kill ‘idiots’ who resist arrest

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte greets Lorenza de los Santos and husband Saldy, parents of 17-year-old high school student Kian Delos Santos, who was killed recently in police raid in line with the war on drug, during their visit at Malacanang presidential complex in metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told police on Monday they could kill “idiots” who violently resist arrest, two days after hundreds of people turned the funeral of a slain teenager into a protest against his deadly war on drugs.

Duterte met the parents of the schoolboy, 17-year-old Kian Loyd delos Santos, at the presidential palace in Manila on Monday, to assure them their son’s case would be handled fairly.

Delos Santos’ mother, Lorenza, said she was confident the president would help quickly resolve the case, while the father, Saldy, said he no longer feared for their lives and felt reassured by the meeting.

“He promised he would not allow those who have committed wrong to go unpunished,” the mother said in an interview posted online by Duterte’s communications office on a Facebook page after the meeting.

Duterte unleashed the anti-drugs war after taking office in June last year following an election campaign in which he vowed to use deadly force to wipe out crime and drugs.

Thousands of people have been killed and the violence has been criticized by much of the international community.

Domestic opposition has been largely muted but the killing of delos Santos by anti-drugs officers on Aug. 16 has sparked rare public outrage.

Residents stay at a wake of a victim of a shooting by masked motorcycle-riding men during a local community protest march against extrajudicial killings in Sampaloc, metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi

Residents stay at a wake of a victim of a shooting by masked motorcycle-riding men during a local community protest march against extrajudicial killings in Sampaloc, metro Manila, Philippines August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

More than 1,000 people, including nuns, priests and hundreds of children, joined his funeral procession on Saturday, turning the march into one of the biggest protests yet against Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign.

Earlier, Duterte broke off midway through a prepared speech at the Hero’s Cemetery on the outskirts of Manila and addressed impromptu comments to Jovie Espenido, the police chief of a town in the south where the mayor was killed in an anti-drugs raid.

“Your duty requires you to overcome the resistance of the person you are arresting … (if) he resists, and it is a violent one … you are free to kill the idiots, that is my order to you,” Duterte told the police officer.

Duterte added that “murder and homicide and unlawful killings” were not allowed and that police had to uphold the rule of law while carrying out their duties.

Delos Santos was dragged by plain-clothes policemen to a dark, trash-filled alley in Manila before he was shot in the head and left next to a pigsty, according to witnesses whose accounts appeared to be backed up by CCTV footage.

Police say they acted in self defense after delos Santos opened fire on them, and Duterte’s spokesman and the justice minister have described the killing of the teenager as an “isolated” case.

U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, described the killing of delos Santos as “murder” in a tweet on Aug. 25, earning the ire of Duterte who in a separate speech on Monday called her “son of a bitch” and “stupid”.

“She should not threaten me,” Duterte said as he challenged Callamard to visit and see the situation in the Philippines.

A planned visit by Callamard in December was canceled because she refused to accept Duterte’s conditions that she must hold a debate with him. She turned up in unofficial capacity in May to address an academic conference on human rights.



(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)


Shot and dumped by a pigsty: a schoolboy killed in Philippines drugs war

Neighbours play cards at the wake of Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old student who was shot during anti-drug operations in Caloocan, Metro Manila, Philippines August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

By Andrew R.C. Marshall and Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine teenager Kian Loyd delos Santos told friends he dreamed of becoming a policeman after graduating from high school.

Last week, plain-clothes policemen dragged the 17-year-old to a dark, trash-filled alley in northern Manila, shot him in the head and left his body next to a pigsty, according to witnesses whose accounts appeared to be backed up by CCTV footage.

The killing has electrified the Philippines, sparked multiple investigations and galvanized what had previously been limited opposition to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. Thousands of people have been killed since he took office 14 months ago.

Police said they shot delos Santos in self-defense after he opened fire on officers during an anti-drugs operation. But there was outrage when the CCTV footage emerged showing two officers marching a figure, subdued and apparently unarmed, toward the spot where the youth’s body was later found.

Three officers, who police say have been confined to quarters in a Manila police camp, are now defending their actions in a Senate inquiry that began on Thursday. They maintain delos Santos fired at them.

The teenager’s parents and the Philippines Public Attorney’s Office, a government legal aid agency, have filed murder charges against the policemen at the justice department.

“Let us allow the formal criminal investigation to proceed and not rush into conclusion or judgment. Let us allow the personnel involved to have their day in court and defend themselves,” Philippines National Police spokesman Dionardo Carlos said when asked about the case.

Reuters journalists spoke to at least two dozen witnesses, friends and neighbors of delos Santos in Manila’s Caloocan area about his killing.

They said he was a kind, popular teenager who liked to joke around and didn’t drink or do drugs. He was too poor to own a gun, they said.

“We no longer have our joker,” said one of his friends, Sharmaine Joy Adante, 15.

She said delos Santos had wanted to join the police so that his mother, who works in Saudi Arabia, could afford to live in her own country.

Nearby, at the entrance to his family’s tiny home, delos Santos lay in an open coffin. Among the tributes placed on its lid was a crumpled playing card – a joker – and a live chick to symbolically peck away at the conscience of his killers.

Some locals said they feared reprisals from the police for speaking out and asked Reuters to withhold their second names.


It was after 8 p.m. on August 16 when Erwin Lachica, 37, a welder, said he saw three men in civilian clothes enter the area on two motorbikes. All three had handguns tucked into their waistbands, he said.

Lachica recognized them as officers from previous police operations in the neighborhood. They were later identified as Arnel Oares, Jeremias Pereda and Jerwin Cruz.

According to a police report issued a day after the killing, when the teenager saw officers approaching, he immediately drew a weapon and shot at them. Oares, who led the operation, returned fire and killed him, it said.

“It was dark, he fired at us,” Pereda told the Senate inquiry this week. “We knew it was a gun, there was a loud sound. We saw a gleam of light.”

Police have cited self-defense as the pretext for killing more than 3,500 people in drug-war operations since Duterte came to power.

Lachica had a different version of events. He said delos Santos was standing outside a shop when the men grabbed him, and then slapped and punched him until he started crying. No gunbattle took place, he said.

“He was saying he was innocent, he was not a drug addict,” added Lachica, who said the men put delos Santos in a headlock and dragged him away.

CCTV footage from a neighborhood security camera shows two men marching someone, his head bowed, through a nearby basketball court. A third man follows.

The officers told the Senate that they were indeed in the video but were bundling away an informant, not delos Santos. Multiple witnesses, however, told Reuters they recognized the youth.

One of those witnesses was Victor, a teenage student, who said he knew delos Santos because he lived in the neighborhood. He said the men hustled delos Santos across the basketball court and down a path to the filthy, flood-prone Tullahan River.

Victor dared not follow. “We were very scared,” he recalled, his eyes filling with tears.

Delos Santos’ life ended in a dark nook next to a disused pigsty by the river. A few paces away, a 39-year-old construction worker called Rene was eating dinner with his two daughters in his home.

First, said Rene, he heard shouting – a man ordering residents to stay inside their houses – then two bursts of gunfire, perhaps 10 shots in all.

“We hid under the table,” he said. “We didn’t even peek out the window.”

Three other residents told Reuters they heard between seven and nine shots. Others said they heard nothing at all: Manila slums are seething, raucous places, where even gunfire can be drowned out.


Autopsies by the police and the Public Attorney’s Office disagreed on the number of gunshot wounds delos Santos sustained, but pathologists for both told the Senate that he was kneeling when shot.

“You are not allowed to kill a person that is kneeling down begging for his life. That is murder,” Duterte said in a speech on Wednesday.

Duterte’s supporters have taken to blogs and social media to express support for the police and raise doubts about delos Santos’ innocence.

But the killing appears to have kindled grave concerns among the public because of the age of the victim and because the video supported witness accounts of his killing.

It has also fueled longstanding public anxiety about the drug war’s brutal methods, and could generate wider opposition to a campaign whose critics have so far been largely limited to priests, activists, lawyers and a handful of prominent politicians.

Still, Duterte remains popular, said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.

“It’s not really a tipping point,” he said. “But Duterte is vulnerable. His popularity will take a hit.”

Delos Santos’ death was the culmination of a spike in killings across the Philippines’ main island, Luzon.

That same night, police shot dead at least 28 people in Manila during multiple operations to crack down on drugs and crime. Two nights before that, in Bulacan province, just north of the capital, police killed 32 people.

Some rights activists saw the upsurge as a government bid to regain credibility lost after Duterte’s recent admission that no president could solve the drug problem in a single term. He had originally vowed to end it within six months of taking office.

Many critics question the drug war’s focus on killing petty users and dealers from poor communities, rather than nabbing the kingpins who supply them with crystal meth, a highly addictive stimulant known locally as ‘shabu’ that officials blame for high crime rates and other social ills.

In a speech this week, Duterte said he had told his police chief to jail the officers involved in the delos Santos killing until an inquiry was conducted. He also vowed to continue the drug war.

“If you want, shoot me. But I will not change my policy,” he said later.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told Reuters that there were lessons to be learned from the events.

“Kian’s case is a wake-up call for the need to reform government institutions, even law enforcement agencies,” he said.

For a graphic on death of a schoolboy, click:

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema, Manuel Mogato and Chin Samson; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Mexico drug war investigators unearth 47 more skulls in mass graves

Clothing is pictured on a wire fence at site of unmarked graves where a forensic team and judicial authorities are working in after human skulls were found, in Alvarado, in Veracruz state, Mexico,

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Investigators unearthed the skulls of 47 more suspected victims of Mexico’s drug war in Veracruz state, just days after uncovering 250 skulls at a separate mass grave used by drug cartels, the state’s attorney general said on Sunday.

Veracruz, on Mexico’s Gulf coast, has long been a stomping ground for criminal gangs, who fight over lucrative drug and migrant smuggling routes.

Giving details on the latest grisly find, Jorge Winckler said the skulls and remains of multiple body parts were unearthed from eight unmarked graves, clustered in a 120 sq meter area, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the town of Alvarado.

So far, Winckler said, investigators had positively identified one three-person family, missing since September 2016, and the remains of two other men.

“The work continues,” Winckler told a news conference, vowing to track down the perpetrators.

Just days earlier, investigators recovered more than 250 skulls from another unmarked grave 60 kilometers (37 miles)further north in the Gulf state of Veracruz.

That burial site was uncovered by relatives of missing family members, impatient with officials’ apathetic response, who launched their own search for missing family members.

The relatives’ groups have exposed the government’s slow progress in attending to rights abuses and victims.

The former governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, who belonged to the country’s ruling party, is a fugitive, fleeing organized crime charges.

Separately, on Sunday the Veracruz attorney general’s office said it was investigating the murder of a journalist, Ricardo Monlui, who was shot dead in the town of Yanga.

Veracruz is the most dangerous state in Mexico for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in 2016 that at least six reporters had been killed for their work since 2010, when Duarte took office, adding it was investigating nine other cases.

(Reporting by Edgar Garrido; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)