Judge denies El Chapo-wife embrace, deems too risky

Security is tight for the trial of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, a Mexican drug baron accused of smuggling drugs into the United States for decades (AFP Photo/Don EMMERT)

New York (AFP) - The US judge overseeing the New York trial of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman ruled Thursday that the notorious drug baron could not hug his beauty queen wife, as requested, just before opening statements are to begin.

Guzman has been held in solitary confinement since he was extradited to the United States in January 2017, after twice escaping from prison in Mexico, subjected to the strictest inmate security protocols in the United States.

This week, with jury selection underway in a Brooklyn federal court for his trial, he asked Judge Brian Cogan, in a letter submitted by his lawyer, if he could greet and embrace wife Emma Coronel before opening statements begin next Tuesday, kicking off the substantive part of the four-month trial.

But while Cogan praised Guzman's "exemplary" behavior in court and confinement to date, and for having "displayed considerable grace under pressure," the request was denied as "contrary to all" security procedures.

Guzman, 61, is banned from communicating with or having any physical contact with 29-year-old Coronel, the mother of the couple's seven-year-old twin girls.

The restrictions, Cogan noted, were "tailored to the government's legitimate objectives of preventing" Guzman from "coordinating any escape from prison or directing any attack" on cooperating witnesses.

"This is especially true on the eve of trial, when the reality of the potential liability defendant faces if convicted may be setting in and his motivation to escape or threaten witnesses might be particularly strong."

Guzman is on trial, accused of smuggling drugs into the United States over a quarter of a century, and is likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars in a maximum security US jail if convicted.

A jury of seven women and five men have been selected to determine whether Guzman is guilty on 11 trafficking, firearms and money laundering charges.