Drug kingpin’s lawyers seek to block extradition to US

Mexico considers its own charges against ‘El Chapo’

Joaquin ‘‘El Chapo’’ Guzman was escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines on Saturday.
Dario Lopez-Mills/Associated Press
Joaquin ‘‘El Chapo’’ Guzman was escorted to a helicopter in handcuffs by Mexican navy marines on Saturday.

MEXICO CITY — Lawyers for drug kingpin Joaquin ‘‘El Chapo’’ Guzman are seeking an injunction against any attempt to extradite him to the United States, a federal court said Monday.

Mexican drug suspects have used such motions in the past to delay extraditions for months or even years, though most eventually lose the bid.

On Sunday, Guzman was formally charged with violations of Mexico’s drug-trafficking laws, starting a legal trial process in Mexico that would also make a swift extradition to the United States less likely.


Guzman was charged with cocaine trafficking Sunday inside a maximum-security prison, Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council said. A judge has until Tuesday to decide whether to release him or start the process of bringing him to trial.

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Authorities believe the judge will launch the trial process, a Mexican federal official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

On the question of possible extradition, Guzman can appeal the judge’s decision, a process that typically takes weeks or months.

Prominent trial lawyer Juan Velasquez, who has represented former Mexican presidents, said appeals ‘‘can delay it, but Mexico has removed a lot of the obstacles to extraditing people.’’

‘‘If the United States asks for a Mexican to be extradited, that Mexican, sooner rather than later, will wind up extradited,’’ said Velasquez, who is not involved in the Guzman case.


Mexican officials are also weighing whether to renew a string of other charges that Guzman faces. The decision to bring one local charge against Guzman indicates that President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration is leaning toward refiling at least some of the others, further delaying any possible extradition.

Guzman escaped a Mexican prison in 2001 and spent the next 13 years on the run before he was arrested Saturday morning in the Pacific coast city of Mazatlan by Mexican marines acting on US intelligence. He faces charges in at least seven US jurisdictions and US officials have been pushing for his swift extradition.

It is a politically sensitive subject for the Pena Nieto administration, which has sought to assert more control over joint antidrug efforts with the United States. Analysts said the Pena Nieto administration was probably torn between the impulse to move Guzman to a nearly invulnerable US facility, and the desire to show that Mexico can successful retry and incarcerate the man whose time as the fugitive head of the world’s most powerful drug cartel had embarrassed successive Mexican administrations.

Many in Mexico, however, see extradition as the best way to punish Guzman and break apart his empire, given the United States’ more certain legal system and better investigation capacities.

‘‘The only option that would allow for dismantling this criminal network is extradition, and that’s unfortunate,’’ said Edgardo Buscaglia, an expert on the cartel and a senior research scholar at Columbia University. ‘‘Because, in the end, extraditions are an escape valve for Mexico.’’


The nation has been slow to improve its own investigative police, prosecution, and court system.

‘‘There are arguments for and against extraditing him,’’ said security expert Jorge Chabat. ‘‘If he stays in Mexico, there are risks he could escape or continue to control his criminal organization from inside prison.’’

Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel allies have hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of dollars at their disposal, along with networks of corrupt officials, hitmen, and other allies throughout Mexico. The cartel is believed to sell cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine in about 54 countries.

The Federal Judicial Council said the cocaine-trafficking charges date to 2009.

The federal official said the Mexican government is weighing whether to try to send Guzman back to prison on the convictions for criminal association and bribery that he was serving time for when he escaped.

At the time of his flight, he was also awaiting trial on charges of murder and drug trafficking.