The wife of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the imprisoned former leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, has been arrested over her alleged involvement in international drug trafficking, the US Department of Justice said.
Emma Coronel Aispuro, 31, who regularly attended her husband’s trial two years ago, was arrested on Monday at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia and is expected to appear by video conference in a federal court in Washington on Tuesday.
A lawyer for Coronel could not immediately be identified. It was unclear why Coronel, a dual US-Mexico citizen, was in the Washington, DC area.
Coronel’s arrest came two years after a trial in Brooklyn where Guzman, now 63, was convicted of trafficking tonnes of drugs into the United States as Sinaloa’s leader. Prosecutors at the trial said Guzman amassed power through murders and wars with rival cartels.
He was sentenced in July 2019 to life in prison plus 30 years, which the sentencing judge said reflected Guzman’s “overwhelmingly evil” actions. Guzman was sent to ADX Florence in Colorado, the US’s most secure prison.
Coronel was charged on Monday with conspiring to distribute heroin, cocaine, cannabis and methamphetamines for unlawful importation into the US.
Prosecutors allege Coronel also conspired to aid her husband in his July 2015 escape from the Altiplano prison in Mexico, when he dug a mile-long tunnel from his cell, and began plotting a second escape following his capture by Mexican authorities in January 2016.
According to the complaint, as much as $2m was paid to an unnamed Mexican official, who oversaw the country’s prisons, to facilitate Guzman’s second attempt to escape.
US and Mexican efforts to fight drug trafficking became strained in October when the US Justice Department brought drug charges against former Mexican Defence Minister Salvador Cienfuegos.
The Justice Department unexpectedly dropped that case the following month and let Cienfuegos return to Mexico, a move Mexico said would help restore trust.
Cienfuegos was exonerated two months later when Mexico dropped its own case.
Tomas Guevara, an investigator in security issues at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa, said Coronel’s arrest might be part of a “pressure strategy” to prompt cooperation from Guzman.
A Mexican official familiar with Coronel’s case, who asked not to be identified, said her arrest appeared to be solely a US initiative and that Coronel was not wanted in Mexico.
Coronel and Guzman have been married since 2007, when they wed in an ostentatious ceremony in a village in Durango state. At the time, Coronel was an 18-year-old beauty queen.
Coronel has also been identified by US authorities as the daughter of Ines Coronel Barreras, as a “significant foreign narcotics trafficker” and an important member of the Sinaloa cartel.
Coronel was barred from all contact with Guzman during more than two years of pre-trial detention.
But during the trial, each day as he entered and left the courtroom, Guzman touched his heart and blew his wife a kiss.
There were suggestions that she was involved in his business and prison escape, but authorities let her come and go freely.
“I can only say that I have nothing to be ashamed of. I am not perfect, but I consider myself a good human being who has never hurt anyone intentionally,” she said at the end of the trial.
Months later, Coronel appeared on the VH1 reality series Cartel Crew, about the lives of people seeking to break away from families involved in the drug trade.
In an episode filmed on board a luxurious yacht near Miami, Coronel told Michael Blanco, the son of Colombian cocaine queen Griselda Blanco, that she wanted to have a normal life, and was thinking about launching a clothing line in the name of her husband.
“Sometimes you just want to do what other people do,” she said while sipping champagne.