'El Chapo' Guzman hires top defence legal team

Joaquin Guzman Loera, known as El Chapo, arrives in New York following his extradition from Mexico. 19 Jan 2017Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Joaquin Guzman was extradited to the US from Mexico in January

Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has hired a team of top defence lawyers in his fight against a US criminal case.

They include Jeffrey Lichtman and Marc Fernich, best known for their successful defence of the son of New York mafia boss John Gotti.

Guzman has pleaded not guilty to charges that he ran the world's largest drug-trafficking organisation.

He faces life in a US prison if convicted.

Guzman, 60, escaped twice from prison in Mexico, once in a laundry basket and later through a tunnel in a prison cell.

He was extradited to the US in January and is being held in a maximum security prison in New York.

Mr Lichtman confirmed in an email on Tuesday that Guzman had hired him along with Mr Fernich, William Purpura and Eduardo Balarezo.

'Zealous defence'

He said it was too early to speculate on a defence strategy.

"We simply hope to have the chance to give Mr Guzman a zealous defence and the chance to challenge the numerous co-operating criminals who will all be seeking to use him as their Get Out of Jail Free cards," he said.

The new lawyers are reported to be seeking assurances that prosecutors would not try to seize their legal fees as part of a $14bn (£11bn) forfeiture they are seeking from Guzman's alleged profits from the drugs trade.

Guzman is due to go on trial next April accused of running the notorious Sinaloa cartel.

Mr Lichtman and Mr Fernich successfully defended John Gotti Junior - son of the so-called "Dapper Don".

Over the course of five years, juries in four trials failed to reach a verdict against John Gotti Junior on charges of murder and racketeering. Prosecutors gave up their case against him in 2010.