Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman accuses US government of 'torture' as he is sentenced to life in prison

Harriet Alexander
Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman will see out his days behind bars in a Colorado prison - EFE/CEFERESO

Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman has been sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years by a judge in New York.

Guzman pleaded with Judge Brian Cogan to be lenient, telling the court - in his first public remarks - that he had been subject to "torture" while in US custody.

“I’ve been forced to drink unsanitary water. I’ve been denied access to fresh air and sunlight. The only sunlight I have in my cell comes through in the air vent,” he said.

Guzman, who used a translator, continued reading from a piece of paper.

“In order to sleep, I have to clog my ears with toilet paper because of the air from the air duct.

Joaquinn "El Chapo" Guzman, which his translator and lawyer, Eduardo Balarezo

“My wife has not been allowed to this day to visit me, I have not been allowed to hug my daughters.

“It has been physical, emotional and mental torture.”

The 62-year-old was found guilty in February of drug trafficking, after an 11-week trial that gripped the US and Mexico.

A stream of infamous traffickers, cartel hitmen and mistresses were brought before the jury to testify that Guzman was one of the most powerful drug kingpins the world has ever known.

Jurors heard evidence from 56 government witnesses, who described the cartel boss beating, shooting and even burying alive those who got in his way, including informants and rival gang members.

His defence team insisted that he had been framed, and the real cartel leader was his colleague Ismael Zambada Garcia, known as El Mayo.

Guzman's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, described Guzman as no more than “a scapegoat”, and that El Mayo wielded the real power, repeatedly paying off a “completely corrupt” Mexican government, including top officials like former presidents Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderon.

Emma Coronel, Guzman's wife, arriving at court during his trial

Guzman also told the judge he was denied a fair trial, saying that Judge Cogan failed to thoroughly investigate claims of juror misconduct. 

"My case was stained and you denied me a fair trial when the whole world was watching," Guzman said.

"When I was extradited to the United States, I expected to have a fair trial, but what happened was exactly the opposite."

Judge Cogan ignored the cartel leader's plea, however, and prosecutors won their request to tack on a symbolic extra 30 years in prison for the use of firearms in his business, portraying Guzman as "ruthless and bloodthirsty."

Judge Cogan said he imposed the additional sentence because the "overwhelming evil is so severe."

He is expected to now be moved from Manhattan to the Supermax prison in Colorado - a facility known as the toughest in the US.

Guzman famously escaped from high-security Mexican prisons twice - once hiding in a laundry cart, and once digging a mile-long tunnel under his cell.

Guzman has been largely cut off from the outside world since his extradition in 2017, on the last day of Barack Obama's presidency.

Wary of his history of escaping from Mexican prisons, US authorities have kept him in solitary confinement at a Manhattan jail and under close guard at his appearances at the Brooklyn courthouse where his case unfolded.

Prosecutors will now begin hunting for the $12.7 billion they have ordered Guzman to forfeit.