NEW YORK – Drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera appeared in a U.S. court on Friday after his surprise extradition from Mexico and pleaded not guilty to charges that he ran the world’s largest drug-trafficking organization during a decades-long criminal career.
“El Chapo” (Spanish for “Shorty”), who twice made dramatic escapes from Mexican prisons and was one of the world’s most wanted drug lords, was accompanied by two lawyers during the appearance in federal court in Brooklyn.
The extradition came on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration, a coincidence some officials said was an olive branch to the incoming U.S. president who declared he would kick Guzmán Loera’s “ass” on taking office.
The Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR) rejected claims the move was related to Trump’s swearing-in, noting that Guzmán Loera faces 10 pending cases in Mexico following his U.S. sentence.
Guzmán Loera, 59, wore a blue jump suit and had no visible expression on his face as he entered the courtroom and listened to questions from a judge. He did not appear to be wearing handcuffs. Guzmán Loera’s lawyers declined to comment to reporters.
After U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein asked Guzmán Loera if he understood the charges against him, Guzmán Loera responded through a Spanish interpreter, “Well, I didn’t know until now.”
An additional hearing was scheduled for Feb. 3.
The indictment in Brooklyn against him, with 17 criminal counts, carries a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison, Robert Capers, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said at a news conference earlier in the day.
U.S. prosecutors have more than 40 witnesses ready to testify against Guzmán Loera, Capers told reporters, adding that the eventual trial will likely last “many” weeks.
Leading the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman oversaw perhaps the world’s largest transnational cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation, playing a key role in Mexico’s decade-long drug war that has killed over 100,000 people.
Guzmán Loera arrived in a small jet at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport after nightfall on Thursday from a prison in Juarez in the northern state of Chihuahua, where his cartel rules.
A few hours earlier, Guzmán Loera, who stands 5 feet six inches, was bundled out of the Mexican cell block with his hands cuffed above his bowed head, Mexican television footage showed.