Joaqun Guzmn pleaded not guilty at New York court hearing as the alleged drug kingpin faces life in US prison and seizure of $14bn in drug profits
Joaqun El Chapo Guzmn could face the rest of his life in a US prison and have $14bn of his drug-trafficking profits seized by American authorities, US prosecutors said on Friday, a day after the cartel kingpin was extradited from Mexico to stand trial in New York.
During a brief hearing at the Brooklyn federal court, Guzmn pleaded not guilty to charges that he lead a vast and murderous criminal operation that distributed 200 tons of cocaine for sale on American streets.
Wearing a dark blue prison smock and trousers, blue tennis shoes and a light brown T-shirt, Guzmn shuffled into court with his hands behind his back looking subdued.
Speaking quietly through a translator, he told judge James Orenstein that he understood the charges against him and the rights he had as a defendant.
Si, seor, he repeated, in reply to Orensteins questions.
He declined to apply for bail.
Unveiling a 17-count indictment against Guzmn at a press conference on Friday morning, Robert Capers, the US attorney for the eastern district of New York, said Guzmn would be forced to answer for a life of crime, violence, death and destruction as the head of the Sinaloa cartel.
Guzmns story is not one of a do-gooder, or a Robin Hood, or an escape artist, said Capers, referring to Guzmns record of twice fleeing Mexican prisons. Instead, said Capers, Guzmns rise was akin to that of a small cancerous tumour that metastasized into a full-blown scourge.
Capers said that in addition to decades of drug trafficking, Guzmn had maintained an army of hitmen to commit murders in defence of his network, amassed a military-style arsenal of weapons, and personally carried a gold-plated AK-47 rifle and diamond-encrusted handgun.
Standing alongside 20 officials from agencies including the FBI, NYPD, the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration, Capers said his announcement was the culmination of more than a decade of investigative work by multiple American authorities.
Guzmn was flown into the US on a Mexican law enforcement plane late on Thursday. Officials said that after landing at MacArthur airport on Long Island, he was driven in a 13-vehicle motorcade to the metropolitan correction center in Manhattan, before being moved to Brooklyn at 7am on Friday.
Special agent Angel Melendez, of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said that for Guzmn the realisation began to kick in that he was about to face American justice upon his transfer to the country, which several officials said had taken the US government by surprise on Thursday.
As he deplaned, the most notorious criminal of modern times, as you looked into his eyes you could see the surprise, you could see the shock, and to a certain extent you could see the fear, said Melendez.
Amid speculation that Guzmns extradition was a parting gift from Mexico to the Obama administration, or even an early peace offering to incoming US president Donald Trump, Capers declined to comment on whether the timing had political significance.
Officials also would not comment on where Guzmn would be detained and on extra precautions being taken to guard the capo, who twice absconded from high-security prisons in Mexico most recently through a sophisticated underground passageway which led from his cell bathroom.
Melendez said to laughter that no tunnel will be built leading to his bathroom. What occurred in other countries will not occur here, said Capers.
Following his second escape in 2015, Guzmn was recaptured in a seedy motel in the city of Los Mochis after federal agents trailed the actor Sean Penn to a clandestine meeting with the fugitive kingpin.
A 56-page memo filed to court by US authorities on Friday said that prosecutors plan to use at trial a large coterie of cooperating witnesses, including dozens of people who claim to have had face-to-face dealings with Guzmn and US-based drug distributors who were supplied by the Sinaloa cartel.
One witness is expected to testify about Guzmns use of assassins against his rivals, including his use of a house specially outfitted for murdering victims, the court filing said. The house had plastic sheets over the walls to catch spouting blood and a drain in the floor to facilitate the draining of blood.
Other witnesses are said to be prepared to testify about specific murders carried out under Guzmns orders including the killing of the cocaine trafficker Julio Beltrn, as well as Guzmns payment of bribes to Mexican politicians and law enforcement officials.