Mexico approves extradition of drug boss 'El Chapo' Guzman to US

Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in a 2016 file photo being escorted by the authorities after his recapture.
Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in a 2016 file photo being escorted by the authorities after his recapture.PHOTO: EPA

MEXICO CITY (AFP) – Mexico on Friday agreed to extradite drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States where he faces narcotics and murder charges, the foreign ministry said.

The announcement follows a series of dramatic escapades by El Chapo or “Shorty” Guzman, 59, considered the world’s most wanted drug boss as leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

“The Mexican government grants his international extradition to the government of the United States of America for him to be tried,” the ministry said in a statement.

Guzman escaped from a top-security jail in July 2015 and was recaptured in January.

Police caught him after a colourful episode involving a US-Mexican soap opera actress and the Hollywood star Sean Penn, who met with Guzman in hiding.

The ministry said it had approved the extradition after receiving assurances from the US government that Guzman would not face the death penalty if convicted, since he could not receive such a punishment under Mexican law.

It said it had notified the suspect’s lawyers of the agreement to extradite Guzman, who is wanted by courts in California and Texas.

Guzman’s legal team has a month to appeal against the decision before it is carried out.

A Mexican judge on Monday ruled that Guzman could be extradited to face drug trafficking, money laundering and murder charges in a US federal court in Texas.

Previously a judge had also endorsed an extradition request based on cocaine-smuggling charges filed at a court in California.

Guzman’s lawyer, Jorge Refugio Rodriguez, told AFP after those rulings that he would appeal if the foreign ministry decided to extradite his client.

Refugio has vowed to fight extradition. He said Guzman has hired a US lawyer and would be willing to plead guilty in return for good US prison conditions.

A US government official who asked not to be named told AFP on May 9 that the United States would not negotiate with Guzman over his plea or conditions.

The official expected Guzman to be extradited by the end of this year.

President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government had previously balked at sending Guzman to the United States.

But after Guzman was recaptured in January, Pena Nieto asked the attorney general’s office to expedite the extradition process.

The government was embarrassed by last year’s escape, when Guzman tunneled out of what was supposed to be one of Mexico’s most secure prisons.

It was one of two dramatic prison breaks the cartel boss has staged.

In 2001, he hid in a laundry cart to sneak out of a maximum-security lockup in western Mexico. He was detained in February 2014 after a long manhunt.

In July 2015 he escaped again, this time from the Altiplano prison, sneaking out through a 1.5km tunnel leading to his cell’s shower.

He was recaptured in January and sent back to Altiplano near the capital, which is still considered the highest security prison despite his escape.

As the extradition drive gathered speed, Guzman was abruptly transferred last week from Altiplano to a jail in Ciudad Juarez, at the US border.

His lawyers have complained about conditions in the Juarez jail. Refugio said Guzman is isolated and had complained his cell was dirty.

The drama of Chapo’s recapture was enhanced by the role of US-Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo, who played a drug boss in a popular soap opera.

She admitted arranging a meeting between herself, Guzman and Penn three months before the capture, in which she wanted to discuss making a film about the drug lord.

Penn wrote about the meeting in Rolling Stone magazine.