MEXICO CITY — The Mexican government has approved the extradition of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the United States, a decision aimed at delivering one of the world’s most notorious criminals to the U.S. justice system to face a vast array of drug trafficking and organized crime charges.
Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department announced the move in a statement Friday afternoon, saying that the government has agreed to send Guzmán to the United States to face charges in Texas and California for murder, money laundering, weapons possession, distribution of cocaine and other crimes. It said Mexico had received guarantees that the death penalty, which is prohibited in Mexico, would not be sought against Guzmán.
Guzman’s lawyers are almost certain to appeal the decision. Mexican officials expect it could take months before any extradition actually occurs.
Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, has broken out of two federal prisons during his drug-running career, but he was recaptured last year in a Pacific coastal town. Earlier this month, Guzmán was transferred from the Altiplano maximum-security federal prison, from which he escaped last year, to a new prison in Ciudad Juarez along the border with Texas.
The move marks a major development for the Mexican government and its most important prisoner.
After his previous capture in 2014, Mexico’s attorney general vowed to hold Guzmán for hundreds of years, a direct rebuke to U.S. requests to turn Guzmán over. But after he escaped from the Altiplano prison through a secret tunnel in July 2015, the political stakes changed for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, which could not afford another humiliating escape from this powerful drug lord.
Guzmán was tracked down to the coastal city of Los Mochis in northern Sinaloa state in January and arrested following a shootout and an attempt to flee via a secret tunnel that led to the city’s sewer system. He was caught when federal police intercepted him in a stolen vehicle.
He was first arrested in 1993 in Guatemala and extradited to Mexico, where he was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison on drug trafficking and other charges. But he was able to bribe prison workers and guards, living like a sultan behind bars and continuing to run his drug empire with his brother, who was still at large. His Sinaloa cartel became the most powerful in Mexico, smuggling tons of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and other drugs into the United States.
While imprisoned in Mexico, Guzmán was indicted in San Diego on drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Apparently fearing extradition, he bribed guards to help him escape by hiding in a laundry cart that was rolled out of the prison in 2001.
He remained on the loose until February 2014, when he was found at a beachfront hotel in Mazatlan, thanks in part to tips from U.S. federal agents. But the Altiplano federal prison west of Mexico City proved unable to hold him. He was able to flee in July 2015 through an elaborate tunnel that associates dug to his cell from a house under construction a mile away from the prison.
William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.