U.S. attorneys anxious to prosecute the world's most notorious alleged drug lord are going to have to wait. In a statement to The Cable, Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Eduardo Medina-Mora opened the door to a future extradition of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, but said he'll face charges in Mexico first.
"Mr. Guzman could eventually face the charges against him in the U.S., after facing the charges against him in Mexico," said Medina-Mora. "Mr. Guzman still has pending time to serve in Mexico from his original sentence and he also faces new charges in Mexico that will be processed in Mexican federal courts."
The remarks suggest a protracted stay for Guzman in Mexico, an outcome that may not sit well with the Obama administration, Congress, and federal prosecutors around the country.
As head of the Sinaloa cartel, Guzman has been charged in at least seven federal district courts in the U.S., including Chicago, which named him Public Enemy No. 1 last year, a title first given to notorious gangster Al Capone. There's a good reason that federal prosecutors want Guzman outside the country: He has been tried and imprisoned in Mexico before.
In 2001, he escaped from his cell with the help of guards and remained at large until his capture three days ago. Extraditing Guzman to the United States could've helped ensure that he's less able to coerce prison guards to assist in his release, said Mike Vigil, the former chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. "In the back of their mind, [Mexican government officials] have to be thinking, 'Here's an individual with millions of dollars, the ability to bribe and to threaten,'" he said. Guzman is known to have threatened prison guards and their families before.
A senior law enforcement official told The Cable that Obama administration officials pressed the extradition case at the highest levels in the Mexican government, apparently to no avail.
On Sunday, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul, urged the Mexican government to consider extraditing him immediately. "There is corruption in [Mexico]," McCaul told ABC News. "I would ask that the Mexicans consider extraditing him to the United States, where he would be put into a super-max prison under tight security, where he cannot escape."
But U.S. officials will have to be patient, said Medina-Mora. "Bilateral security and justice cooperation between Mexico and the United States unfolds in a mature and serene way, and cases like Mr. Guzman's are processed with openness," he said. "I think that the charges he faces in Mexico will be processed first and an eventual extradition request would be considered at the appropriate time."