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El Chapo Trial Witness Tells of Bribe to Ex-President

A Colombian drug trafficker testified Tuesday that Mexican cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman once boasted about paying a $100 million bribe to the former president of Mexico.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Former president of Mexico Enrique Pena Nieto accepted a $100 million bribe from the Sinaloa Cartel during his tenure, a witness testified Tuesday in the Brooklyn trial of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. 

Authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, center, from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., on Jan. 19, 2017. A jury has been picked for the U.S. trial of the Mexican drug lord. Seven women and five men were selected on Nov. 7, 2018, as jurors in the case against Guzman. The trial is set to begin Nov. 13 with opening statements in federal court in Brooklyn. (Photo via U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration)

The explosive allegation came on the third month of trial of the storied Mexican drug lord. The witness, Alex Cifuentes, is a former Colombian trafficker who is cooperating with prosecutors.

He was clear on the payment but unsure on the dates and amounts, saying in earlier sworn statements that the money was paid some time in 2012, possibly around October. The witness has testified to acting as Guzman’s “right-hand man, and his left-hand man.”

The first claim of a large bribe to the ex-president of Mexico, made by defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman in his opening argument in November, was immediately denied by the ex-president. “The government of @EPN [Enrique Pena-Nieto] pursued, captured and extradited the criminal Joaquin Guzman Loera. The affirmations attributed to his lawyer are completely false and defamatory,” he said in a statement when the claim was first made this past November. Pena Nieto could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Defense lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman brought the claim to light, seeking to portray his client as part of a government-wide corruption scheme. The witness, Cifuentes, said during his testimony in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that he’d gotten the information straight from Guzman.

In a 2017 statement to the U.S. government, paraphrased by Lichtman, the witness said the purpose of the bribe was so that Guzman “didn’t have to stay in hiding.”

“What the presidency wanted was money,” Litchtman suggested to the witness.

“To work with him, yes,” Cifuentes answered.

Lichtman continued paraphrasing from earlier statements by the witness that suggested a round of bargaining between El Chapo and El Presidente. Cifuentes said Pena Nieto had asked for $250 million but Guzman counteroffered with $100 million, based on the defense lawyer’s rendition. 

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto holds a press conference at Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, Monday, Jan. 23, 2017. Pena Nieto said Monday that Mexico's attitude towards the Donald Trump administration should not be aggressive or biased, but one of dialogue. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Pena Nieto left office in December, replaced by the newly elected Andrés Manuel López Obrador who ran on an anticorruption platform. 

In his effort to demonstrate a government-wide system of corruption in Mexico, Lichtman repeated the long list of public institutions claimed by the witness to be corrupt. They included Mexican law enforcement, local police, some judges, and many local politicians. 

“And as you just testified to, the president of Mexico has been corrupt,” said Lichtman.

Cifuentes said yes. 

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