Ms Coronel Aispuro leaves the US Federal Courthouse after the Mexican mobster’s conviction. Picture: Kena Betancur/AFP
Ms Coronel Aispuro leaves the US Federal Courthouse after the Mexican mobster’s conviction. Picture: Kena Betancur/AFP

El Chapo’s $14 billion bride

When the wife of notorious drug lord El Chapo learnt that her husband had been convicted of trafficking vast quantities of cocaine into the United States and was likely to spend the rest of his life behind bars, her reaction was magnificently calm.

"Nobody's dead," Emma Coronel Aispuro told those fussing around her, waving away tissues as she swept out of the New York courtroom in which she has spent much of the past three months.

The 29-year-old Kim Kardashian lookalike is known for her sanguine demeanour, and has become a magnet for hordes of paparazzi who routinely surrounded her outside Brooklyn's US Federal Court as she loyally stood by her husband, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

"I've never seen her cry," Mariel Colon Miro, the junior lawyer who became close to Ms Coronel during the sensational trial, told news.com.au. "She's very, very strong and a very intelligent woman. I think a lot of people underestimate her.

"I kind of took on the role of helping her here in New York. This is a person who, she has nobody in New York, she comes here just to support, like a loving wife, support her husband for three months with no family, not even knowing the language."

Now the trial of the century is over, the former beauty queen is heading back home to Mexico to see family, friends and her twin daughters, and check on her land and business interests.

The drug lord's wife lives a lavish lifestyle, born into a family of Sinaloa cartel members, and marrying a man who made an estimated $14 billion as head of the powerful criminal enterprise. And she has big plans for the future, with Ms Colon saying she could be back in the US within the year to pursue some secret "projects".

 

Guzman was convicted on charges relating to smuggling $14 billion of cocaine into the United States. Picture: Eduardo Verdugo/AP
Guzman was convicted on charges relating to smuggling $14 billion of cocaine into the United States. Picture: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

El Chapo, meaning "shorty" because he stands just 1.7m-tall (5ft 6in), was this week found guilty on 10 counts relating to smuggling an estimated 200 tons of narcotics to the US at the end of a trial that lasted almost three months.

More than 50 witnesses for the prosecution delivered colourful testimony about the 61-year-old cocaine kingpin's Hollywood-style escapades, describing ruthless murders, a jewel-encrusted gun, government pay-offs, a cocaine-packed submarine and a naked prison escape through a tunnel.

Ms Coronel must now begin making a life for herself and their twin daughters alone after the emotional ordeal of the remarkable trial - and the former beauty queen has big plans. "She's El Chapo's wife, so people of course do know her. Especially in Sinaloa, they treat her with a lot of respect and admiration," said Ms Colon.

Ms Coronel met Guzman as a teenager at a party thrown by Ines Coronel Barreras, a cattle rancher believed to have grown marijuana and opium poppies for the cartel. Her uncle was slain cartel boss Igancio "Nacho" Coronel, one of El Chapo's most trusted men.

Then 47, Guzman is said to have exerted his influence to ensure the 17-year-old pageant queen won the Coffee and Guava Festival in the Mexican state of Durango in 2007, and she became his fourth wife on her 18th birthday.

"She's been through a lot throughout her life with her family," said Ms Colon. "That can shape someone ... or make someone maybe react in a different way when faced with difficult situations."

When one of Guzman's former mistresses took the stand last month, Ms Coronel cackled audibly as the woman wept about how she believed they had been in love. A day later, the glamorous mother-of-two posted three photos to Instagram of herself laughing and smiling outside court, along with a love heart.

"Her commitment to Joaquin has been absolute, they genuinely love each other very much," another El Chapo's lawyer, Michael Lambert, told news.com.au.

The Sinaloa cartel boss was found guilty of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political pay-offs, cocaine hidden in jalapeño cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape through a tunnel. Picture: United States Drug Enforcement Administration via AP
The Sinaloa cartel boss was found guilty of running an industrial-scale smuggling operation packed with Hollywood-style tales of grisly killings, political pay-offs, cocaine hidden in jalapeño cans, jewel-encrusted guns and a naked escape through a tunnel. Picture: United States Drug Enforcement Administration via AP

Ms Coronel gave birth to their twin daughters in 2011, but Guzman was imprisoned for the second time in 2014.

He famously escaped from Mexican prison twice, the first time in 2001, concealed in a laundry cart. The second time, the man known for transporting drugs via secret passageways dug a tunnel from a cellblock shower room to the outside world in 2015. There, according to one witness, he was met by his wife and the pair embarked on a life in hiding from the law.

El Chapo even met with Hollywood actor Sean Penn during his six months on the run, before police tracked him down after a nationwide manhunt.

His legal team claimed he was seen by detectives as the ultimate prize, a man who has gained almost mythical status as the biggest crime boss since Pablo Escobar. There is so little video of the elusive criminal that the actor who plays him in Narcos attended court in New York to study his mannerisms.

Guzman's lawyers said he was not top-dog but a scapegoat of the cartel and corrupt law enforcement, saying that even the former and current Mexican presidents accept bribes to look the other way. But the defence's case lasted a mere 30 minutes.

The team faced a mountain of evidence including testimony from a string of Guzman's former criminal associates, who his defence claimed were low-lifes who would say anything to help shorten their sentences. Their former boss stared coldly and even made notes as they reeled off lurid accusations against him, from sleeping with minors to ordering thousands of murders.

 

 

Ms Coronel, who reportedly met El Chapo when he helped her win a local pageant at the age of 17, was accused by one witness of helping him escape from prison.
Ms Coronel, who reportedly met El Chapo when he helped her win a local pageant at the age of 17, was accused by one witness of helping him escape from prison.

Ms Coronel was banned from any contact with her husband, and was only ever able to see him in court, although his daughters were permitted to visit him four or five times over the past year.

That state of affairs will continue, with Guzman locked up in solitary confinement in a small cell with no windows under 24-hour bright, artificial light bulbs his lawyers say have given him headaches.

"His ears are hurting a lot, his throat is hurting a lot ... the air that he breathes is from an air conditioner, it doesn't circulate," said Ms Colon. "This extreme confinement has impacted him mentally and emotionally as well. He forgets a lot of things."

She wrote a letter asking the judge to allow Guzman to hug his wife as a "humanitarian gesture" - but the request was denied.

"Just because of the fact that she is El Chapo's wife, people are already of course unfairly suspicious of her."

When the former pageant queen was found with a banned mobile phone in court, the prosecution insisted she was trying to communicate with her husband. The judge eventually accepted she had simply been trying to use Google Translate.

Ms Coronel was accused of meeting El Chapo at the end of a hidden tunnel he had dug from his shower to the outside world in one of two daring prison breakouts.
Ms Coronel was accused of meeting El Chapo at the end of a hidden tunnel he had dug from his shower to the outside world in one of two daring prison breakouts.

"They're amazing people," said the lawyer. "Joaquin Guzman's very, very strong, positive, he stays very positive throughout the process, same as Emma, I think they share that characteristic.

"They're both very strong and the way, when they're faced with what has been one of the most difficult processes in their lives, I just admire the way they handled themselves."

El Chapo has certainly never meekly accepted his fate - but time may have run out for the criminal mastermind.

The lawyers say they plan to appeal on two major aspects: first, that he was limited in his ability to defend himself and gather witnesses from Mexico (with visas) due to his strict confinement. Secondly, they say they were not allowed to pursue certain lines of questioning because of the potential embarrassment to the Mexican and US governments.

 

He’s said to have spent more than a quarter of a century trafficking a record 200 tons of cocaine into the US. Picture: Eduardo Verdugo/AP
He’s said to have spent more than a quarter of a century trafficking a record 200 tons of cocaine into the US. Picture: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

 

But the process could take years. In the meantime, he remains unable to see his wife, friends or family, cut off from the world after living the sort of dangerous and thrilling life you see in the movies.

"At some point, both Mr Guzman and Emma knew this was coming," said Mr Lambert. "If you saw them in the courtroom, they were both stoic. It's been coming for months.

"She's going on with her life, because that's what Joaquin would want.

"I think she's going to be making a lot of moves in the world.

"She's not out there seeking attention. She's a person of substance.

"She is a glamorous person in the sense she's gained celebrity status, but she's also a private person. That's not something anybody wants … the chaos outside court."

As for the appeal, Mr Lambert said, "Mr Guzman is looking forward to that fight, he's not given up."

In the meantime, the woman behind the legendary gangster will be chasing her own destiny.

 

The cocaine kingpin was extradited to the US in 2017. Picture: United States Drug Enforcement Administration via AP
The cocaine kingpin was extradited to the US in 2017. Picture: United States Drug Enforcement Administration via AP


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