Witness at 'El Chapo' trial says kingpin boasted of $100M bribe to former Mexican president

A Colombian drug trafficker testified Tuesday that Mexican cartel leader Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman boasted about paying a $100 million US bribe to the former president of Mexico so he would call off a manhunt for the notorious kingpin.

A spokesperson for Enrique Pena Nieto previously called the bribery claim 'false and defamatory'

Recaptured drug lord Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman is seen as he is escorted by soldiers in Mexico City in January 2016. A witness at Guzman's New York conspiracy trial on Tuesday alleged the kingpin told him he made a $100 million US bribe to former Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto. (Henry Romero/Reuters)

A Colombian drug trafficker testified Tuesday that Mexican cartel leader Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman boasted about paying a $100 million US bribe to the former president of Mexico so he would call off a manhunt for the notorious kingpin.

Alex Cifuentes spoke about the alleged bribe to former president Enrique Pena Nieto, who left office last year, while being cross-examined at Guzman's murder and drug conspiracy trial in New York.

Pena Nieto's former chief of staff took to social media to reject the accusation.

"The declarations of the Colombian drug trafficker in New York are false, defamatory and absurd," wrote Francisco Guzman on Twitter, adding that the Pena Nieto government "located, detained and extradited" the Mexican kingpin.

Pena Nieto was still president when Guzman was captured in 2016 and extradited to the U.S. in 2017.

Cifuentes acknowledged that he first spoke with prosecutors about the bribery allegation when he began co-operating with U.S. authorities in 2016.

After expressing confusion about the details, he acknowledged he had told prosecutors that he was informed by Guzman that someone named "Comadre Maria" delivered the money in Mexico City in October 2012, at a point when Pena Nieto had been elected president but before he took office.

Defence attorney Jeffrey Lichtman, left, cross-examines Alex Cifuentes, a close associate of Guzman, in this sketch of court proceedings on Tuesday. (Jane Rosenberg/Reuters)

Guzman's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, also questioned Cifuentes about his prior statements from another debriefing last year, where Cifuentes questioned his own memory about the circumstance of the bribe.

"By 2018, suddenly the numbers became fuzzy?" Lichtman asked.

"Yes, sir," the witness responded.

Guzman is on trial in New York on charges that could put him in a U.S. prison for the rest of his life. The trial has featured numerous allegations of bribes or attempts to bribe high-level officials in Mexico and Colombia, including police commanders and other officials in charge of fighting the drug cartels.

The defence strategy for eliciting testimony about Guzman making bribes wasn't immediately clear. At the start of the trial, Lichtman indicated that jurors would hear testimony about bribes paid to both Pena Nieto and another former Mexican president, Felipe Calderon.

Lichtman also suggested Guzman was the victim of a conspiracy — organized by government officials and his narco-rivals — that was intended to railroad him. At the time, Calderon dismissed the allegations as "absolutely false and reckless."

The judge in the case, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan, admonished Lichtman after his opening statement to the jury, saying some of it included "inadmissible hearsay" about corruption.

"Your opening statement handed out a promissory note that your case is not going to cash," the judge said at the time.