Sat, Jun 09, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Mexico to hand over suspected drug queen to US

AP, MEXICO CITY

Sandra Avila Beltran is seen after her arrest in Mexico City on Sept. 28, 2007, in this picture released by the Mexican Attorney General’s office on Oct. 9, 2007.

Photo: Reuters

A panel of Mexican judges on Thursday agreed to the extradition of a suspected drug trafficker known as the “Queen of the Pacific,” who is wanted in the US on cocaine-related charges.

The three federal appellate judges said Sandra Avila Beltran could be tried outside of Mexico, but only on one of the two charges prosecutors sought.

Avila Beltran cannot be tried for the seizure of more than 9 tonnes of US-bound cocaine from a vessel in Mexico’s western port of Manzanillo because a Mexican judge acquitted her in that case in December 2010. An appeals court upheld the verdict last August.

Previous requests to extradite the high-profile suspect have been denied twice by a panel and then by a judge, who argued that the confiscation of the 9 tonnes of cocaine would inevitably be part of the foreign trial.

However, the judges on Thursday ruled that Avila Beltran has to answer to a charge stemming from several seizures in Chicago in 2001 that amounted to 100kg of cocaine. The 2004 indictment in the Southern District of Florida does not specify Avila Beltran’s role in the drug-dealing case.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department must re-file the extradition request to leave out the charge related to the Manzanillo seizure. The department did not respond on Thursday to a request for comment.

Avila Beltran remains in a prison in the Mexican state of Nayarit, pending trial for a separate money-laundering charge. It was not immediately clear how Mexican prosecutors would proceed with that charge.

Avila, Beltran who was arrested in 2007 sipping coffee in a Mexico City diner, has said she is innocent. Her attorney could not be immediately reached for fresh comment.

Her case is widely known in Mexico because Avila Beltran is the niece of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, “the godfather” of Mexican drug smuggling who is serving a 40-year sentence for trafficking and the murder of US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena in 1985.

Prosecutors have alleged that Avila Beltran spent more than a decade working her way to the top of Mexico’s drug trade. They say her romance with Colombian Juan Diego Espinoza brought together Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel with Colombia’s Norte del Valle.

The Sinaloa cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been locked in a vicious fight with the violent Zetas gang in several regions of the country.

Also on Thursday, the US Treasury Department announced that it is placing financial sanctions on a wife and son of Guzman, who is Mexico’s most-wanted man.

The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said that it had designated Maria Alejandrina Salazar Hernandez and Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 26, under the US Kingpin Act. That bars American citizens from making business transactions with them and allows authorities to freeze their assets in the US.

Guzman escaped prison in 2001 and has evaded authorities ever since, moving from hideout to hideout as he directs the operations of his powerful cartel. The US and Mexican government have been intensifying their actions against Guzman’s family in recent months.

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