A lawyer for accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has told a New York jury in opening remarks that his client was a "scapegoat" for the real leader of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.

"He's blamed for being the leader while the real leaders are living freely and openly in Mexico," attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said on the first day of Guzmán's trial for drug smuggling in Brooklyn federal court.

"In truth he controlled nothing. Mayo Zambada did."

Mr Zambada, who is still at large, had bribed Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, said Mr Lichtman.

Mr Pena Nieto's spokesman said of the accusation: "That is false."

The statement came after Assistant US Attorney Adam Fels laid out the US government's case, describing how prosecutors would prove that Guzmán rose from a low-level marijuana trafficker in the 1970s to lead the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, leaving a trail of violence in his wake.

Federal prosecutors say that Guzmán, 61, directed massive shipments of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine bound for the United States.

He faces 17 criminal counts and a potential life sentence if convicted.

Guzmán is considered the world's largest drug trafficker since the death of Colombia's Pablo Escobar.

As well as smuggling drugs to the United States, the Sinaloa Cartel has played a major role in narco violence between rival gangs that has torn areas of Mexico apart.

More than 200,000 people have been killed, many in cartel feuds, since the Mexican government sent troops in to take on the drug gangs in 2006.

Guzmán, who twice dramatically escaped from Mexican maximum security prisons, has been kept in solitary confinement in Manhattan and transported to court in Brooklyn in a heavily guarded motorcade.

He was one of the world's most wanted fugitives until he was captured in January 2016 in his native Sinaloa. He was extradited to the United States a year later.

In 2009, Forbes Magazine put him on its list of the world's richest people, with an estimated $1bn fortune, but investigators say it is impossible to know exactly how much he was worth.

Guzmán used his wealth to buy off politicians, police chiefs, soldiers and judges, Mexican prosecutors say.

His nickname, a reference to his 1.67m (5’6’’) height, is often translated in English as "Shorty."

Several former Guzmán associates are known to have struck deals to cooperate with US prosecutors, raising the possibility that they will appear on the witness stand.

They include Ismael Zambada's son Vicente Zambada, who pledged to cooperate in a plea agreement made public last week, and Chicago-born twins Pedro and Margarito Flores, one-time drug traffickers who secretly taped Guzmán.

In addition to Mr Lichtman, Guzmán will be represented at the trial by Eduardo Balarezo and William Purpura, who previously defended Mexican drug lord Alfredo Beltran Leyva, once a partner and later a rival of Guzmán.

Beltran Leyva pleaded guilty to US drug charges and was sentenced to life in prison by a federal judge in Washington last year.