LOS MOCHIS, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexico’s government aims to fulfill a request from the United States to extradite the newly-recaptured drug lord Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman to face drug trafficking charges, sources familiar with the situation said on Saturday.
The Mexican Attorney General’s office will be working as fast as possible to establish the path to extradition, and Chapo could be extradited by mid-year, one of the sources said. However the timing will likely depend on any injunctions filed by Guzman’s lawyers.
Guzman, boss of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, is wanted by U.S. authorities on a host of criminal charges. His organization has smuggled billions of dollars worth of drugs into the United States and is blamed for thousands of deaths due to addiction and gang violence.
“The objective is to fulfill the extradition request,” one source said.
The United States requested Guzman´s extradition in late June, just a couple of weeks before his brazen escape from a maximum security prison through a mile-long tunnel which burrowed right up through the floor of his cell.
The failure to extradite him before his elaborate jailbreak strained relations with the United States.
Sending Guzman to the United States would help allay fears the drug lord could use his massive fortune to bribe prison officials and escape from a Mexican maximum security jail yet again.
Though the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals helped in the recapture, American officials have taken no credit and instead lavished praise on Mexico.
“Criminals like Guzman-Loera are responsible for bringing hundreds of tons of illicit drugs into the United States every year, and are responsible for tremendous amounts of violence and death in our own country and across the world,” the U.S. State Department said on Friday.
For years the world’s most wanted drug lord used tunnels to move tonnes of drugs into the United States and to evade capture - until Mexico’s government got wise to his game.
Six months after a brazen jailbreak worthy of Hollywood, escaping a maximum security prison through the tunnel from his cell, Mexico’s security forces turned the tables on Guzman on Friday.
After tracking Guzman down to a house in Los Mochis, in his native northwestern state of Sinaloa, Mexican Marines chased the cartel leader and his chief assassin through a drain and then nabbed them as he tried to flee by car.
Security forces had identified a tunnel expert in Guzman’s circle who was outfitting houses in Sinaloa, and that helped lead to the drug baron’s capture, Mexico’s Attorney General Arely Gomez said.
“During the confrontation, Guzman Loera managed to escape through the city’s drainage system, which had already been factored into the capture strategy,” Gomez said late on Friday, as Guzman was whisked by helicopter to the same maximum security prison in central Mexico he broke out of in July. Guzman’s arrest is a major boost for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who was highly embarrassed by last year’s jailbreak, Guzman’s second in 15 years.
The dramatic capture followed a six month-long intelligence operation. Gomez said Guzman was almost caught in October, when Marines in a helicopter zeroed in on him near a ranch in the rugged northern state of Durango.
But the kingpin was spied in the company of two women and a young girl, prompting the Marines to hold fire and allowing him to slip their grasp.
The encounter pushed Guzman deeper into Mexico’s notorious “Golden Triangle”, where the bulk of the country’s opium and marijuana are produced, limiting his communications and cutting down his security detail to a small core.
But for reasons that are unclear, El Chapo had by December decided to hide out in cities. The tunnel-builder began outfitting homes across Sinaloa and Sonora.
Authorities caught wind of it and began carefully watching a house in Los Mochis. They spotted unusual activity when a vehicle pulled up before dawn on January 7, and intelligence officials confirmed Guzman was on the property. The raid followed.
Marines formed a cordon around the block on Saturday morning, and said they believed Guzman had been in the property for around 48 hours before the raid was launched.
One local resident, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said the operation appears to have been triggered after a neighbor complained there were armed men outside his house.
Marine helicopters then hovered over nearby storm drains as they sought to capture Guzman. A dead rat lay beside the mouth of one nearby drain that residents suspect he used in his escape.
After chasing him through a drain and stopping his getaway car, the Marines took Guzman and made an unscheduled stop - waiting for reinforcements at Hotel Doux, a love motel on the outskirts of town that rents out rooms for a few hours at a time.
Guzman also slipped up by pursuing a dream to be immortalized on the silver screen.
“Another important aspect which helped locate him was discovering Guzman’s intention to have a biographical film made. He contacted actresses and producers, which was part of one line of investigation,” Gomez said.
With additional reporting by Alexandra Alper; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Kieran Murray and Mary Milliken