1708043967 Sinaloa Cartel Ismael El Mayo Zambada accused of trafficking fentanyl

Sinaloa Cartel: Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, accused of trafficking fentanyl in the United States

Sinaloa Cartel Ismael El Mayo Zambada accused of trafficking fentanyl

New charges against Ismael El Mayo Zambada in the USA. The Eastern District Court of New York has released an indictment against the historic leader and founder of the Sinaloa Cartel for manufacturing and distributing fentanyl. This is the same court that sentenced Joaquín El Chapo Guzmána to life imprisonment in 2019 and where a legal offensive was launched against Los Chapitos, the boss's sons. Washington plays one of its last cards to put him in the dock, promising that El Mayo will suffer the same fate as Guzmán. “This accusation demonstrates our determination to bring him to justice, just as we did his former accomplice El Chapo,” prosecutors said in a statement released Thursday.

The 76-year-old Zambada has already been charged with organized crime, conspiracy to commit murder, money laundering and various drug trafficking crimes, including bringing cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine into the United States. The new indictment repeats those charges and includes two others for fentanyl trafficking. He also describes El Mayo, who has been on the run for decades, as the leader of the “most powerful criminal organization in the world,” the Sinaloa Cartel. So far, the American justice system has only chosen Los Chapitos, who were identified last year as the initiators of the criminal group's operations to penetrate the synthetic drug market.

In the court file accessed by EL PAÍS, El Mayo is accused of building a criminal empire that dates back to 1989 and which it still runs today. The United States claims he has amassed billions of dollars in profits and is offering a $15 million reward for anyone who provides information leading to his capture. This is an indictment for 17 criminal offenses, which also orders the payment of 14,000 million dollars to repair the damage.

“With the arrest of Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, Zambada García is the undisputed and highest-ranking leader of the Sinaloa Cartel,” the State Department said. El Mayo, who is much more discreet than El Chapo and whose whereabouts have been unknown for years, is being prosecuted in five US states: Texas, California, Washington DC, Illinois and New York.

This indictment also details approximately 84 drug smuggling operations into the United States, the first since 1999. The indictment summarizes decades of criminal activity in 27 sheets. “In the first years of 2000, Ismael Zambada García and Joaquín Guzmán Loera formed an alliance that led to the transformation of La Federación into the Sinaloa Cartel,” the document says.

Washington asserts that the cartel has had disputes, but does not directly refer to the tensions between the El Mayo faction and Los Chapitos. “Although there were internal rifts and frictions among the Sinaloa Cartel's leaders, they generally coordinated their criminal activities, shared control of trade routes in Mexico, resolved conflicts in their territories, and kept violence within the organization to a minimum for receiving official and unofficial protection,” it says.

The court file mentions his killer structure, the corrupt pacts with the Mexican authorities, the alliances he made with the Colombian cartels and the laundering of billions of dollars in Mexico. “Ismael Zambada García and other leaders employed contract killers who committed hundreds of violent acts on behalf of the defendants, including murders, assaults, kidnappings and torture,” prosecutors said. The logic of violence ordered from the top of the cartel structure follows motives such as intimidating rivals, defending their territory, punishing treason and enforcing internal discipline.

Unlike the charges filed against Los Chapitos early last year, the indictment does not provide many details about how El Mayo became involved in the fentanyl trade. The United States only says that criminal activity exceeds the production and distribution of 400 grams of this substance, which is the sufficient limit to consider it a serious crime. Last year, drug messages and a letter surfaced through the Guzmán family's lawyer in which El Chapo's children denounced a “witch hunt,” distanced themselves from trafficking in the drug, and imposed an alleged de facto ban in various areas of Mexico. However, the United States is convinced that the Sinaloa Cartel and its rivals in the Jalisco New Generation Cartel are the two main sources in the United States of fentanyl, an opioid that claims tens of thousands of lives in this country each year.

In 2013, his son Vicente Zambada Niebla, aka Vicentillo, was arrested in Chicago for drug trafficking and became a key accomplice in the overthrow of El Chapo. Vicentillo claimed during Guzmán's trial that his father spent more than $1 million a month on bribes to Mexican politicians and police officers. The capo, who was intended to be his father's heir, served a reduced prison sentence and was released in 2021. Jesús El Rey Zambada, his brother, also played a crucial role in the trial of El Chapo and Genaro García Luna, the minister of public security in Felipe Calderón's government, last year.

It is the most ambitious attempt to arrest him since 2016, when the last charges against him were brought across the border. Although authorities surrounded his inner circle, the boss was never caught in connection with the drug trade in nearly six decades of his life. He has become the man in the shadows and, for many, remains the one who really calls the shots in Sinaloa.

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