MEXICO CITY: Mexico will put drug baron Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on trial on organized crime charges but authorities have left the door open to extraditing the fallen kingpin to the United States.
When issuing their decision Tuesday, officials warned that any extradition process could be lengthy after two federal judges ruled that Guzman can face court on charges of organized crime as well as drug trafficking.
Investigators also want to extract information from the 56-year-old so they can go after other top capos in his Sinaloa cartel before entertaining any extradition bid. Mexican authorities are hard-pressed to show they can convict the world’s most wanted drug lord, who embarrassed them by breaking out of prison in 2001 by hiding in a laundry cart.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong stressed that Guzman was being held in a maximum-security prison near Mexico City and that “every measure has been taken to avoid another escape by this criminal.”
Seeking to scotch conspiracy theories that authorities caught the wrong man, the attorney general’s office even held an unusual press conference to show fingerprint and DNA tests proving the mustachioed suspect was indeed Guzman.
Television images showed Guzman’s arrival at the Altiplano prison on Saturday, landing in a police helicopter, signing a document and taking a mugshot in inmate garb with the number 3578.
The Sinaloa cartel boss, who has three days to appeal the decision to put him on trial, was captured by Mexican marines in a US-backed operation on Saturday in a Pacific beach town.
The attorney general’s office plans to lodge six additional charges against Guzman, including using funds from illegal activities and possession of weapons reserved for the military. But US prosecutors have announced plans to file an extradition request amid fears expressed by a prominent congressman that Guzman could pull off another prison break.
Guzman faces drug trafficking and money laundering charges in at least seven US jurisdictions from New York to Chicago and San Diego, California. Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam said he had spoken with his US counterpart, Eric Holder, who talked to him about the possibility of an extradition bid.
“I told him that it is an issue that we have to review,” Murillo Karam said, stressing that such a move would not happen quickly.
Guzman’s lawyers have already requested an injunction to prevent any extradition to the United States. The arrest was a major victory in President Enrique Pena Nieto’s campaign against drug violence, a scourge that has left around 80,000 people dead since 2006. The capture was also a triumph for the US Drug Enforcement Administration and its 13-year effort to bring down the world’s most wanted drug lord.
Interior Minister Osorio said Guzman would first have to be convicted in Mexico.
He also denied a report that the attorney general’s office wanted to offer Guzman protected witness status in exchange of information about other gangsters or corrupt officials.
Senior Mexican officials said their work against the Sinaloa cartel is not over and that they need Guzman’s testimony. “This arrest is the start of a much stronger action to prevent this organization from existing,” Murillo Karam told Radio Formula. Guzman’s top associate, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, is seen his natural successor as head of the cartel, which analysts say is powerful enough to survive its boss’s capture.
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