Mexico aims to hand drug lord to US

The mugshot of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka "el Chapo Guzman", published on the Attorney General of Mexico's website on Feb 22, 2014.
The mugshot of Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka "el Chapo Guzman", published on the Attorney General of Mexico's website on Feb 22, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

Recaptured drug kingpin 'El Chapo' could be extradited by middle of the year

LOS MOCHIS (Mexico) • Mexico aims to extradite drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera to the United States after security forces recaptured the fugitive cartel leader who blew his cover through a series of slip-ups, including an interview with Hollywood star Sean Penn that helped the authorities track him down.

Mexico's Attorney-General's Office will be working as fast as possible to establish the path to extradition, and the cartel leader known as "El Chapo" could be sent to the US by the middle of the year, a source familiar with the situation said on Saturday. However, the timing might depend on injunctions filed by Guzman's legal team. "The objective is to fulfil the extradition request," another source said.

Guzman, the world's top drug smuggler and boss of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, is wanted by the US authorities on a host of charges. His organisation has smuggled billions of dollars worth of drugs into the US and is blamed for thousands of deaths in Mexico and the US due to addiction and gang warfare.

The US had requested Guzman's extradition in late June, just a couple of weeks before his brazen escape from a maximum-security prison, but the Mexican government had been reluctant to send him over the border. The failure to extradite him before his jailbreak had strained relations with the US.

Mr Juan Pablo Badillo, a lawyer for Guzman, said on Saturday that the drug lord could not be extradited. "In strict accordance with the Constitution, he cannot nor should he be extradited to any foreign country," Mr Badillo told local television channel Milenio. "Why? Because he is Mexican, and Mexico has wise laws and a fair Constitution, and there is absolute confidence in the prisons authority."

Milenio cited Mr Badillo as saying that Guzman's team had filed six injunctions against extradition to the US. But Mexico's Attorney- General's Office said that none of the injunctions presented would get in the way of starting extradition proceedings.

Sending Guzman to the US would help allay fears the drug lord could use his massive fortune to bribe prison officials and escape from a Mexican jail yet again.

His dramatic escape from prison last year, when he disappeared through a hole into a 1.6km-long tunnel, had been facilitated by engineers who had been flown to Germany for specialised training, wrote Penn, who interviewed him for Rolling Stone magazine.

His account is likely to deepen concern among the Mexican authorities already embarrassed by Guzman's prison escapes, the months required to find him again and his status as a latter-day Robin Hood among many. Some fear his arrest and eventual extradition could open the door for other drug gangsters to extort locals. "We hope that other bad people don't come. Here there is no extortion; El Chapo lets people work," said street seller Marta Lopez, 44, in the Sinaloan state capital of Culiacan.

Though the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and US Marshals helped in the recapture, American officials have taken no credit and instead lavished praise on Mexico. On Saturday, neither the DEA nor US Justice Department officials would comment on whether or not the US was expecting Mexico to extradite Guzman.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Mexico aims to hand drug lord to US'. Print Edition | Subscribe