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Mexican drug lord ‘El Chapo’ to face US trial in September

Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the Navy's airstrip in Mexico City

A US federal judge on Thursday set a Sep 5 trial date for Joaquin Guzman, the Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo” who is jailed in the United States on drug trafficking and conspiracy charges.

US prosecutors have accused Guzman, 60, of running a global cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, and playing a central role in a decade-long Mexican drug war where more than 100,000 people have died.

US District Judge Brian Cogan said at Thursday’s hearing in Brooklyn federal court that potential jurors would be given a written questionnaire on March 23 to screen them before the trial.

Cogan had ruled on Feb 5 that the identities of the jurors in the case would be kept secret for their protection. Guzman’s lawyer, Eduardo Balarezo, has asked Cogan to reconsider that ruling.

Near the close of Thursday’s hearing, Balarezo said that Guzman wanted to address the court directly, in order to tell his family to pay his legal fees. Cogan did not allow Guzman to address the court, but did ask him whether he agreed with Balarezo’s statement.

Guzman said he did, and also began to say that he wanted to talk about his health and jail conditions, before Cogan told him he would consider allowing him to speak at a future hearing.

Lawyers for Guzman have said in court papers that his health has deteriorated during his months in solitary confinement.

Balarezo told reporters outside the courthouse following the hearing that he had been paid part of his fee by some “friends” of Guzman, but that Guzman had so far been unable to instruct his family about further payments.

Mexican authorities captured Guzman and an associate in January 2016 by pulling over a Ford Focus they had stolen, after Guzman had fled through tunnels and drains from a raid on a safe house in northwest Mexico.

Six months earlier, Guzman had escaped through a tunnel from a high-security Mexican prison. Guzman was extradited to the United States in January 2017.

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