U.S. trial of Mexico's 'El Chapo' begins amid heavy security

NEW YORK, Nov 13 (Reuters) - The trial of accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman will begin with lawyers' opening statements in a federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, amid intense public attention and extraordinary security measures.

Federal prosecutors say that as leader of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman, 61, directed massive shipments of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine bound for the United States. He faces 17 criminal counts and a potential life sentence if convicted.

As well as smuggling drugs to the United States, the Sinaloa Cartel has played a major role in narco violence between rival gangs that has torn areas of Mexico apart and defied successive governments.

More than 200,000 people have been killed -- many in cartel feuds -- since the Mexican government sent troops in to take on the drug gangs in 2006.

Guzman's lawyers have signaled that they intend to downplay their client's role in the cartel and argue that the prosecutors' witnesses are motivated by self interest and not believable.

Guzman, who twice dramatically escaped from Mexican maximum security prisons, has been kept in solitary confinement in Manhattan and transported to court in Brooklyn in a heavily guarded motorcade.

The security around him is so strict that U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, who is presiding over the case, last week denied a motion by Guzman asking to hug his wife before the trial.

The jurors will remain anonymous and be escorted to and from by armed U.S. marshals. Prosecutors have said the security is necessary because of Guzman's history of intimidating and even ordering murders of potential witnesses. Guzman's lawyers have called those claims unfounded.

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Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman
Mexico's top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted as he arrives at Long Island MacArthur airport in New York, U.S., January 19, 2017, after his extradition from Mexico. Picture taken Janaury 19, 2017. U.S. officials/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Wife of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, Emma Coronel, exits following his court appearance at the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Mexico's top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as he is extradited to New York in this handout image made available January 19, 2017. Faces of soldiers obscured and image watermarked at source. PGR - Mexico's Attorney General's Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY.
Mexico's top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, as he is extradited to New York in this handout image made available January 19, 2017. Faces of soldiers obscured and image watermarked at source. PGR - Mexico's Attorney General's Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A motorcade carrying Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman crosses the Brooklyn Bridge following his court appearance in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S., February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Federal Police patrols park outside of Federal Prison Cefereso number 9 where Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'El Chapo Guzman' was jailed before being extradited to the United States in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on January 19, 2017. Mexico extradited drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman to the United States -- handing over one of the world's most notorious criminals on the eve of US President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration. / AFP / HERIKA MARTINEZ (Photo credit should read HERIKA MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JANUARY 8: Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as 'El Chapo' is transported to Maximum Security Prison of El Altiplano in Mexico City, Mexico on January 08, 2016. Guzman Loera, leader of Mexico's Sinaloa drug Cartel, was considered the Mexican most-wanted drug lord. Mexican marines captured 'El Chapo' on Friday in Sinaloa, North of Mexico. (Photo by Daniel Cardenas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALMOLOYA DE JUAREZ, July 16, 2015-- Security forces stand guard in the surroundings of the alleged house where was built the tunnel, through which escaped from prison Mexico's drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, in Almoloya de Juarez, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico, on July 15, 2015. Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, disappeared from the maximum-security Altiplano prison outside of Mexico City Saturday night, according to the National Security Commission. (Xinhua/Alejandro Ayala via Getty Images)
A Mexican soldier speaks with a man at the International airport in Mexico City on July 16, 2015. The Mexican government has offered a $3.8 million reward for fugitive drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's capture, double the amount it usually offers for the country's most wanted criminals. AFP PHOTO/ YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A Public Safety Secretary of the Federal District (SSPDF) police officer stands next to a patrol car with a picture of fugitive drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman's on its window, in Acapulco, Guerrero State, Mexico, on July 14, 2015. Mexico's government offered a $3.8 million reward for the capture of 'El Chapo' Guzman on Monday and sacked top prison officials amid suspicions that guards helped him escape. Guzman vanished from his cell late Saturday even though he was wearing a monitoring bracelet and surveillance cameras were trained on the room 24 hours a day, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said. AFP PHOTO / PEDRO PARDO (Photo credit should read Pedro PARDO/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexico's Attorney General Arely Gomez shows a picture of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman during a press conference held at the Secretaria de Gobernacion in Mexico City, on July 13, 2015. Guzman managed to escape from his cell despite a monitoring bracelet and 24-hour security camera surveillance, and likely was helped by prison officials, authorities said. AFP PHOTO/ Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A poster with the face of Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, reading 'Wanted, Again', is displayed at a newsstand in one Mexico City's major bus terminals on July 13, 2015, a day after the government informed of the escape of the drug kingpin from a maximum-security prison. Mexican security forces scrambled Monday to save face and recapture 'El Chapo' as authorities investigated whether guards helped him escape prison through a tunnel under his cell. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of pipes near the Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after the confirmation of the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washes his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
A Federal Police officer stands guard outside the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A group of journalists remain close the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A Federal Police officer stands guard outside the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: Federal Police men patrol near of the Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after the confirmation of the eescape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of a tunnel terminated in a house under construction in a neighborhood near the prison which was allegedly used Joaquin El Chapo Guzman to eescape, during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after confirming the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: View of a tunnel terminated in a house under construction in a neighborhood near the prison which was allegedly used Joaquin El Chapo Guzman to eescape, during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after confirming the escape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Picture of the yellow tape put by security forces of the Office of the Attorney General around the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JULY 12: Arelly Gomez General Attorney of Mexico walks during an operation on the surroundings of Mexican Maximum Security Prison of 'El Altiplano' after te confirmation of the eeescape of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman on July 12, 2015 in Mexico City, Mexico. 'El Chapo' was seen last time around 20:52 on the video security system when he got close to the showers where he normally takes his shower and washeses his essentials. (Photo by Manuel Velasquez/LatinContent/Getty Images)
Security forces of the Office of the Attorney General secure the house at the end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman could have escaped from the Altiplano prison, in Almoloya de Juarez, Mexico, on July 12, 2015. Guzman has escaped from a maximum-security prison, the government said Sunday, his second jail break in 14 years. The kingpin was last seen in the shower area of the Altiplano prison in central Mexico late Saturday before disappearing. 'The escape of Guzman was confirmed', the National Security Commission said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / YURI CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Guatemalan Interior Deputy Minister Elmer Sosa shows a picture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman Loera during a press conference in Guatemala City on July 12, 2015. The security authorities of Guatemala are in alert after the escape of the leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, reported Sunday an official source. AFP PHOTO / Johan ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
View of the covers of Mexican newspapers in Mexico City, on February 23, 2014, after Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' was arrested yesterday by Mexican marines. Guzman is the Sinaloa cartel leader and the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
A semi-submersible which was seized with seven and a half tons of cocaine, is exhibited at a military unit in Tegucigalpa on February 24, 2014. Hoduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez congratulated the Mexican government for the capture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who had extended his power to Central America, linked for over two decades to groups that control vast territories for the passage of drugs to the US. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman escaped his captors by walking along this drainage canal and tunnel behind a house in Culiacan, Mexico, last week. Guzman was finally captured on Saturday in the nearby city of Maz. Photo was taken Feb. 24, 2014. (Tim Johnson/MCT via Getty Images)
Members of the press take photographs as drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is flown by a Federal Police helicopter, blue helicopter in center, from a Navy hangar at Mexico's International Airport in Mexico city, Mexico, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Mexico's apprehension of the world's most-wanted drug boss struck a blow to a cartel that local and U.S. authorities say swelled into a multinational empire, fueling killings around the world. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
View of the inside of a semi-submersible -seized with seven and a half tons of cocaine- exhibited at a military unit in Tegucigalpa on February 24, 2014. Hoduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez congratulated the Mexican government for the capture of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, who had extended his power to Central America, linked for over two decades to groups that control vast territories for the passage of drugs to the US. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman escaped his captors by walking along this drainage canal and tunnel behind a house in Culiacan, Mexico, last week. Guzman was finally captured on Saturday in the nearby city of Maz. Photo was taken Feb. 24, 2014. (Tim Johnson/MCT via Getty Images)
View of the covers of Mexican newspapers in Mexico City, on February 23, 2014, after Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' was arrested yesterday by Mexican marines. Guzman is the Sinaloa cartel leader and the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Jesus Murillo Karam, attorney general of Mexico, center, stands next to Vidal Francisco Soberon Sanz, an admiral of the Mexican Navy, right, and Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexican secretariat of national defense, left, while speaking about the capture of drug trafficker Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman to members of the press outside a Navy hangar at Mexico's International Airport in Mexico city, Mexico, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014. Mexico's apprehension of the world's most-wanted drug boss struck a blow to a cartel that local and U.S. authorities say swelled into a multinational empire, fueling killings around the world. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Members of the Mexican Navy stand guard during an operation to present Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman' to the press, on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City. The Sinaloa cartel leader - the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies - was arrested early this morning by Mexican marines at a resort in Mazatlan, northern Mexico. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Mexican Navy stand guard near a helicopter transporting Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera aka 'el Chapo Guzman', on February 22, 2014 in Mexico City. The Sinaloa cartel leader - the most wanted by US and Mexican anti-drug agencies - was arrested early this morning by Mexican marines at a resort in Mazatlan, northern Mexico. AFP PHOTO/Alfredo Estrella (Photo credit should read ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP/Getty Images)
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EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES

Prosecutors have also taken extraordinary measures to protect witnesses they plan to call during the trial, which could last up to four months.

According to court filings, those witnesses will include former Sinaloa Cartel members and others involved in the drug trade who are now cooperating with the U.S. government. None have been publicly named, and some may testify under aliases.

Guzman was one of world's most wanted fugitives until he was captured in January 2016 in his native Sinaloa. He was extradited to the United States a year later.

In 2009, Forbes Magazine put him on its list of the world’s richest people, with an estimated $1 billion fortune but investigators say it is impossible to know exactly how much he was worth.

Guzman used his wealth to buy off politicians, police chiefs, soldiers and judges, Mexican prosecutors say. His nickname, a reference to his five foot, six inch (1.67 meters) height, is often translated in English as "Shorty."

Several former Guzman associates are known to have struck deals to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors, raising the possibility that they will appear on the witness stand.

They include Vicente Zambada, son of top Sinaloa Cartel figure Ismael Zambada, who pledged to cooperate in a plea agreement made public last week, and Chicago-born twins Pedro and Margarito Flores, one-time drug traffickers who secretly taped Guzman.

The defense will be spearheaded by Eduardo Balarezo and William Purpura, who previously defended Mexican drug lord Alfredo Beltran Leyva, and Jeffrey Lichtman, best known for securing the acquittal of mafia boss John Gotti's son.

Beltran Leyva, once a partner and later a rival of Guzman, was found guilty of U.S. drug charges and sentenced to life in prison by a federal judge in Washington last year. (Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York Editing by Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell)

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