MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The evidence likely to be presented at the New York trial of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will paint a picture of a Robin Hood figure, albeit a brutal one, who amassed a $14 billion fortune by bribery, murdering rivals and smuggling huge amounts of drugs.
Guzman’s lawyers have signaled that they intend to downplay their client’s role in the Sinaloa Cartel which prosecutors say he led for years, at the trial which starts on Tuesday.
The following includes some of the most colorful claims made by the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) in pre-trial documents:
* Guzman started as a teenager cultivating marijuana and growing poppies for heroin production, going on to become the main leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, “the world’s largest and most prolific drug trafficking organization.”
* While he was guarded by a virtual army of enforcers and cartel assassins, Guzman was also known to carry a gold-plated AK-47 assault rifle and a diamond-encrusted pistol for his own personal protection.
* In 2001, Guzman famously escaped from prison, purportedly in a laundry cart with the assistance of prison officials whom he had corrupted. He escaped again in 2015, from a maximum security prison via a tunnel of more than a mile long that emerged in the bathroom in his cell. The complexity and cost of the plan is part of the DoJ’s case that he was a very powerful figure in Mexico.
* Guzman’s enforcers were tasked with a wide-range of murder, assault, kidnappings, torture and targeted assassinations designed to “promote and enhance his prestige, reputation and position within the Sinaloa Cartel and to protect the cartel against challenges from rivals.”
* During one specially violent turf battle over the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, one of Guzman’s assassins oversaw a house specially designed for murder with plastic sheets covering the walls to minimize messes as well as a drain in the middle of the floor to quickly clean up spilt blood.
* El Chapo’s wrath against rivals could be hyper-violent. Allegedly on his orders, trafficker Julio Beltran was gunned down on the streets of the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan “using so many rounds of ammunition that Beltran’s head was almost completely separated from his body.”
* By some, he was viewed as a modern-day Robin Hood, popular with the down-trodden and extolled in popular songs. There were protests in the streets of Sinaloa after his arrest.
* While the DoJ documents does not explain why he enjoyed that status, for years stories have emerged in Mexico of Guzman helping poor communities by paying for roads and other infrastructure projects, including contracting helicopters to install posts for the electricity system of his mountainous home town of Badiraguato, Sinaloa.
* The geographical reach of Guzman’s drug empire was vast as his Sinaloa Cartel moved into lucrative methamphetamine trafficking starting around 2000, driving him to establish suppliers for precursor chemicals in Africa, China and India.
* Among his many Spanish-language nicknames was “El Rapido,” or “Speedy,” due to his uncanny ability to move massive drug shipments originating from South America across the U.S.-Mexico border using land, air and sea routes while returning laundered drug proceeds to mostly Colombian partners in record time.
* Massive bribes to corrupt politicians and security officials were largely responsible for the success of his business model, including a $1 million cash bribe for just one drug deal. The bribes often secured armed police escorts for shipments headed to the United States.
Reporting by David Alire Garcia and Anthony Esposito; Editing by Frank Jack; Daniel and Alistair Bell