Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Cartel leader hopes to avoid extradition


Mexico’s powerful drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman sought on Monday to prevent extradition bids by the US, where he faces charges for smuggling massive amounts of cocaine.

US federal prosecutors in New York announced plans to request Guzman’s extradition, while several other US cities have indicted him on a slew of other offenses.

The 56-year-old Sinaloa cartel boss is already facing drug trafficking and organized crime charges at home, with a Mexican judge required to decide yesterday whether to put him on trial.

Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said the government is expecting a US request and did not rule out extraditing Guzman.

“The security Cabinet will have to meet to decide what’s best,” Osorio Chong told Radio Formula.

After 13 years on the lam, the 56-year-old drug lord was captured by Mexican marines in the Pacific beach town of Mazatlan on Saturday following a US-backed manhunt that involved cellphone taps and use of a drone.

His beauty-queen wife, Emma Coronel, who is in her middle-20s, and their two-year-old twin daughters were present during the arrest, but later set free because “they had absolutely nothing to do with the criminal actions,” Osorio Chong said.

Guzman’s lawyers filed documents on Sunday and on Monday seeking an injunction to prevent any extradition. A Mexican judge must decide whether to approve the injunction.

Legal experts said Guzman could be extradited to the US before a Mexican trial or after being convicted here. Mexican authorities could also decide to wait until he serves his full sentence in Mexico.

“From the moment that the United States requests the extradition, the foreign ministry had 30 days to decide whether to accept or reject the request,” Iberoamericana University law professor Julio Hernandez Barros told reporters.

Raul Benitez Manaut, a security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, said Guzman’s injunction bid, known as an amparo, is a tactic “to stay in Mexico and delay the case.”

The US had offered a US$5 million reward for information leading to Guzman’s capture, while the city of Chicago — one the main destinations for his narcotics — had branded him “Public Enemy No. 1.”

A senior US lawmaker, Representative Michael McCaul, has called for his swift extradition to put him in prison in the US, recalling that Guzman escaped once before in 2001.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the decision whether to pursue extradition “will be the subject of further discussion between the United States and Mexico.”

Mexican authorities are holding Guzman in a maximum-security prison 90km west of Mexico City, where many of the country’s most notorious criminals are held.

Nabbing Guzman, considered the world’s biggest drug trafficker, was a major victory in Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s push to rein in drug violence in his country.

The Sinaloa cartel’s turf wars with rival gangs contributed to a wave of drug violence that left more than 77,000 people dead in the past seven years.

His arrest capped a months-long operation that resulted in the arrests of a dozen Sinaloa cartel operatives, including alleged bodyguards of Guzman’s top associate, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

A US government official told reporters on condition of anonymity that the US Drug Enforcement Administration provided the intelligence that led to the arrest and that “cellphone intercepts” were key.

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