Coming to America: Extradition of El Chapo Could Take Years

Coming to America: Extradition of El Chapo Could Take Years

It took six months of hard work for Mexican authorities to track down notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán. It could take years of hard work to extradite him to the United States.

José Manuel Merino Madrid, who oversees extradition efforts in Mexico for that nation’s attorney general, told Mexico’s Radio Formula on Monday that lawyers for Guzmán could drag out the extradition process for up to a year. Juan Masini, a lawyer who has served as a U.S. federal prosecutor and attache to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, says that may be a conservative estimate.

Masini said he’s confident the U.S. Justice Department ultimately will win the battle to ship Guzmán to the U.S. to face myriad murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking and organized crime charges. But he counsels patience.

“Theoretically the (Guzmán) lawyers could waive a hearing and the Mexican government could send him right away,” Masini said. “But if he wants to fight it, under Mexican law he is entitled to challenge a lot of procedures. It could take years.”

Guzmán made world headlines in July with a dramatic escape from Mexico’s maximum security Altiplano prison. A massive international manhunt wrapped up Friday with his arrest following a deadly shootout in Los Mochis, a Mexican coastal city of 250,000 in Guzmán’s home state of Sinaloa.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a University of Texas political science professor specializing in Mexican affairs, said the Mexican government feels pressure from the U.S. government as well as its own people to support the U.S. extradition effort. In 2014, then-attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam said Guzmán would go to the U.S. after serving his sentence in Mexico — in “about 300, 400 years.” That was before the great escape.

“Before the escape, the Mexican people were split. Some people supported the nationalistic idea that he had to pay for his crimes here,” she said. “But after the escape, that totally changed. People don’t believe in their institutions.”

Still, the Mexican courts must be persuaded. Juan Pablo Badillo, a lawyer for Guzmán, has made it clear his client won’t go quietly, telling Milenio TV that the first paperwork to block extradition has been filed.

One hurdle that should easily be cleared is the issue of capital punishment, Masini said. Mexico has no capital punishment and will require an assurance from U.S. officials that no effort will be made to execute Guzman. But lawyers can challenge whether the extradition documents provide probable cause, they can challenge the reliability of witnesses — and they can pick through the paperwork for every possible weakness, Masini said.

“They don’t have to raise the challenges all at once, either,” Masini said.

Masini noted Mexican elections take place in two years. Currently, Mexican officials have made it clear they support extraditing Guzmán to the U.S. But the political winds could change as elections draw near, he said. Even if the courts approve extradition, renewed nationalistic fervor could prompt the government to have a change of heart and block it.

Correa-Cabrera said Guzmán could well have friends in high places in Mexico — friends who don’t want Guzmán mentioning their names to prosecutors in the U.S.

Masini noted that the cost of litigation likely won’t be an issue for Guzmán. U.S. indictments claim the El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel has netted billions of dollars.

“It all depends on how hard his lawyers want to push it,” Masini said. “I have been involved in extraditions that took months. But others have taken years.”

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