Drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman wants to dump his US public defenders for a quartet of top-flight criminal defence lawyers, including attorneys who got an infamous New York mafia boss out of prison.

Guzman, one of the world's most notorious criminals who twice escaped prison in his native Mexico, has moved to hire Jeffrey Lichtman, Marc Fernich, Eduardo Balarezo and William Purpura, three of the lawyers confirmed.

But there is a sticking point: the quartet want a guarantee that US prosecutors will not seize their legal fees as part of the $14 billion forfeiture they are seeking of Guzman's alleged drug profits.

That issue will be discussed at the next court hearing scheduled August 14, which Fernich said the private lawyers would attend only as observers.

"I'll represent him along with the other three provided this fee issue is resolved. I expect that to happen," Fernich said.

"We are confident we see him vindicated provided all these preliminary wrangling works out, we'll fight the case very hard," he said.

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