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El Chapo's drug cartel paid $6 million in bribes to Mexico president Pena Nieto, defense lawyers claim

November 13, 2018 - New York, United States - A view of a photographic reproduction of a drawing by Jane Rosenberg that shows Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, right, attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, left, and justice Brian Cogan, center, during the first session of his trial before the Brooklyn South District Court, in New York, Nov. 13, 2018. Guzman faces a possible life sentence on drug trafficking charges that will be decided by 12 members of a jury. (Jane Rosenberg/EFE/Zuma Press/TNS)
November 13, 2018 - New York, United States - A view of a photographic reproduction of a drawing by Jane Rosenberg that shows Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, right, attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, left, and justice Brian Cogan, center, during the first session of his trial before the Brooklyn South District Court, in New York, Nov. 13, 2018. Guzman faces a possible life sentence on drug trafficking charges that will be decided by 12 members of a jury. (Jane Rosenberg/EFE/Zuma Press/TNS)
In this courtroom sketch Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, center, sits next to his defense attorney Eduardo Balazero, left, for opening statements as Guzman's high-security trial gets underway in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. Guzman pleaded not guilty to charges that he amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune smuggling tons of cocaine and other drugs in a vast supply chain that reached New York, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere north of the border. The infamous Mexican drug lord has been held in solitary confinement since his extradition to the United States early last year. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)
In this courtroom sketch Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, center, sits next to his defense attorney Eduardo Balazero, left, for opening statements as Guzman's high-security trial gets underway in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. Guzman pleaded not guilty to charges that he amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune smuggling tons of cocaine and other drugs in a vast supply chain that reached New York, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere north of the border. The infamous Mexican drug lord has been held in solitary confinement since his extradition to the United States early last year. (Elizabeth Williams via AP)

NEW YORK—A key witness at the trial of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will testify that he paid $6 million in bribes to the country’s current president, lawyers said in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Jesus Reynaldo “Ray” Garcia Zambada is expected to say he paid the $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 Friday show.

Defense lawyers argue that Guzman was scapegoated 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 U.S. drug agents helped El Mayo in the scheme, Guzman’s lawyers claim.

During a private conference Wednesday that included the prosecution, defense lawyers and Judge Brian Cogan, Guzman’s attorney 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 that point,” Purpura said.

Defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman added: “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.”

“(Government officials) were paid off to leave Zambada alone,” Lichtman said.

Ray Zambada will say he “paid off, at the request of Mayo, the now incumbent president of Mexico to the tune of six $6 million or more on two separate occasions at a restaurant,” Purpura said.

Prosecutors say Guzman has no proof to back up his claim that Mayo Zambada was in fact the real leader of the cartel, and that Guzman was 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 (Guzman),” Assistant US Attorney Gina Parlovecchio said.

Mayo Zambada, now 70 years old, 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 president of Mexico State, a densely-populated region that mostly surrounds Mexico City.

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

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

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