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LATIN AMERICA

Mexico formally begins extradition proceedings against ‘El Chapo’

Long legal battle expected to prevent the Sinaloa cartel leader from being sent to the US

Two soldiers escort “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Two soldiers escort “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Mexico has formally begun extradition proceedings against drug lord Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, who is wanted by the United States on various arrest warrants.

The Sinaloa cartel leader has been notified that judicial proceedings will be conducted to determine whether he should be sent to the United States, where he is wanted in seven states on federal drug charges.

Guzmán is being held at the Altiplano maximum security prison outside Mexico City following his capture on Friday after six months on the run. This is the same penitentiary from where he made his daring escape on July 11 by slipping away through a tunnel dug under his cell.

Why should Mexico sell its citizens as if they were devalued barrels of oil?”

Lawyer Juan Carlos Badillo

The escape was a major embarrassment for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

The notorious drug kingpin was captured following a shootout between his gunmen and Mexican marines in the seaside city of Los Mochis, located in Guzmán’s home state of Sinaloa. Five suspects were killed and six others arrested. One marine was injured.

El Chapo’s lawyers will have three days to contest the extradition request and an additional 20 days to argue why their client should not be sent to the United States. But it could take many days before a final decision is handed down.

In a statement, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) explained that the courts must hear all the arguments for and against extradition before issuing a ruling. The decision would be turned over to the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, who will present details of the current extradition treaties Mexico holds with the United States.

The proceedings could take months to allow El Chapo to exhaust all his appeals. In the past, the Sinaloa cartel leader has challenged his extradition by filing numerous appeals with Mexico’s federal courts.

On Saturday, the day after he was arrested, his lawyer Juan Carlos Badillo filed a new challenge to prevent El Chapo from being sent to the United States.

“Japan, Israel, France and Britain do not extradite their nationals,” he said outside the prison where his client is being held. “Why should Mexico sell its citizens as if they were devalued barrels of oil?”

Before his escape in July, Washington had requested that El Chapo be sent to the United States to face charges, but Mexican authorities said they wanted to try him in the local courts and have him serve his prison sentences before making such a decision.

The tunnel through which El Chapo escaped from prison six months ago.
The tunnel through which El Chapo escaped from prison six months ago. Agencia Reforma

“[Even] if the judge concludes that Guzmán can be extradited, he does not have to be turned over to the US immediately,” explains Ricardo Sánchez Reyes Retana, a lawyer with experience in organized crime who notes that the Mexican government does not wish to appear weak.

“It would be a mistake to extradite him now,” adds Eduardo Guerrero, a national security expert who worked for the government of President Felipe Calderón. “It would show that Mexico is very vulnerable, that we don’t trust our own institutions and that US pressure has immediate effects.”

Both men believe that Guzmán will remain in Mexico for at least six months before being delivered to US authorities.

Mexican authorities were able to track down El Chapo after he reportedly held a meeting with US actor Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo. Penn, who met with El Chapo in October, was reportedly writing a profile on the drug lord for Rolling Stone magazine, which ran the story on Saturday night.

English version by Martin Delfín.

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