Most-Wanted Former Fugitive Guzman Awaits Extradition Decision

After capturing the world’s most-wanted drug trafficker, Mexico must decide what to do with him.

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was detained Feb. 22 by Mexican security forces, had been sought for 13 years by the U.S. and Mexico after he escaped from the Puente Grande maximum-security prison in the Pacific state of Jalisco in a laundry truck. At the time of his capture, the U.S. State Department had a bounty of as much as $5 million on his head, while Mexico was offering 30 million pesos ($2.26 million) for his arrest.

Local officials are likely to overlook political sensitivities about U.S. influence in the region to allow for his extradition, according to George Grayson, professor of government at the College of William and Mary and author of books on Mexican drug traffickers. Guzman, who is being held in the Altiplano maximum-security prison in central Mexico, has already been charged, which may delay any extradition, the Associated Press reported, citing unidentified officials.

“The U.S. would like to get him in custody,” Grayson, whose latest book is “The Cartels: The Story of Mexico’s Most Dangerous Criminal Organizations and Their Impact on U.S. Security,” said in a telephone interview from Williamsburg, Virginia. “Mexican prisons aren’t the most secure in the world. As we know, El Chapo has enough money to buy the whole state of Mexico, where the Altiplano is located.”

Forbes Billionaire

Guzman’s attorneys yesterday filed a motion to prevent the Mexican government from extraditing him, AP reported. A federal judge will rule today on his criminal standing, said a press official for Mexico’s Attorney General office, who asked not to be named in accordance to government policy.

Guzman’s drug-trafficking empire helped him amass a personal fortune of about $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican who heads the House Committee on Homeland Security, said on ABC’s “This Week” program on Feb. 23 that he wants Guzman extradited to the U.S., partly to ensure that “what happened in 2001 does not happen again.”

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Ministry declined to comment on whether the U.S. is seeking Guzman’s extradition.

Last year’s early release of drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero from a Mexican prison will probably weigh on Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s decision, said Jorge Chabat, a security analyst at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, a Mexico City-based university.

“If Chapo escapes or he’s freed, the political cost for Pena Nieto would be devastating,” Chabat said by telephone. The Mexican government knows “that not all the institutions are equally trusted. The penitentiary system is vulnerable; the judiciary system was cheated by Caro Quintero.”

Federal officials in Chicago and Brooklyn have said they would like to try Guzman, AP reported.

12 Years

The Guzman case will put to the test the willingness of the administration to send criminals to the U.S. for trial, according to Chabat. Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, returned to power in December 2012 after 12 years during which the opposition National Action Party, or PAN, held the nation’s top office.

“The PAN administrations have been less reluctant to extradite, while the PRI governments have avoided it before approving extraditions,” Chabat said. PRI officials are “more nationalistic, and therefore more resistant to pretty much admit some of their institutions don’t work.”

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