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'El Chapo' Guzman allowed to meet relative in U.S. jail: lawyer

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Joaquin Guzman, the Mexican drug lord known as "El Chapo" who is jailed awaiting trial in the United States, may meet with a relative to discuss ways to pay for his defense, a lawyer for Guzman said on Monday.

Lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman told reporters after a hearing in federal court in Brooklyn that Guzman's sister had been cleared to see him. He has not been allowed any visits since being extradited from Mexico in January on U.S. drug trafficking charges.

Lichtman, best known for successfully defending the son of convicted mafia boss John Gotti, and three other lawyers are seeking to take over Guzman's defense from court-appointed lawyers.

He said that they needed assurances that the government would not try to seize their fees. In the hearing, U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan refused to allow the private lawyers to join the case provisionally while the fee issue is resolved.

Lichtman said Guzman would meet with a family member other than his wife on Thursday, but declined to confirm it was Guzman's sister. He said the meeting would allow Guzman to discuss for the first time how he would pay for private lawyers, since he did not have access to his finances in jail.

A spokesman for U.S. prosecutors declined to comment or confirm the meeting.

Guzman, 60, is charged with running an international cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation as leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, playing a major role in Mexico's decade-long drug war that has killed more than 100,000 people. He faces life in prison if convicted at trial, currently set for April.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson; editing by Grant McCool)