MEXICO CITY: Mexico is aiming to extradite imprisoned drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States early next year, the country’s national security chief said Friday.
“We hope (to do it) in January or February,” National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia told the television channel Televisa, giving the government’s clearest estimate of when it could send the Sinaloa drug cartel chief to the United States.
Guzman’s lawyer Jose Refugio Rodriguez countered: “He can have his own personal opinion. I think it will be very difficult for it to happen between now and January.”
Refugio Rodriguez told Televisa that his client has instructed him to “fight to the end” and that he can win the case if it “is not handled politically.”
The foreign ministry approved Guzman’s extradition in May, but the man who was once considered the world’s most powerful drug trafficker has filed court injunctions.
A judge began reviewing the case on September 26 and it is unclear when he will issue his ruling, but Guzman can appeal a decision against him in a higher court.
Guzman is facing two extradition bids, one in California for drug distribution and another in Texas on charges that include murder and money laundering.
His sons, meanwhile, have made waves lately, with authorities accusing them of being behind an ambush on a military convoy last month that killed five soldiers.
Refugio Rodriguez gave Televisa a letter from Archivaldo Ivan and Jesus Alfredo Guzman dated October 2 in which they deny their involvement in the attack.
“We have nothing to do with the massacre against military personnel,” says the letter from the sons, both of whom have been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department as members of the Sinaloa cartel.
“We have never fought with the government, nor do we want to. This would practically mean digging our own graves.”
With Guzman in prison since January, his cartel has faced attacks from rivals.
Members of the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, which is battling Guzman’s gang for supremacy in Mexico, briefly kidnapped Jesus Alfredo in August. He was released within days and the reasons behind the abduction are unknown.
Officials say his criminal group is also being challenged in its northwestern home state of Sinaloa by the Beltran Leyva drug cartel.
Major US trial
Guzman was captured in February 2014 after 13 years on the lam, but he escaped a year later from the Altiplano maximum-security prison near Mexico City through a 1.5-kilometer (one-mile) tunnel, humiliating President Enrique Pena Nieto.
After he was recaptured in January in his northwestern home state of Sinaloa, he was sent back to the same prison.
But he was abruptly transferred in May to another prison in Ciudad Juarez, a city bordering Texas once known for its cartel turf wars.
Pena Nieto had balked at extraditing Guzman before his escape in July 2015, preferring to put him on trial in Mexico.
But after he was recaptured, the president ordered the attorney general’s office to speed up the extradition process.
Guzman’s extradition would set up a major trial in the United States for a man whose cartel has been accused of murdering countless people in Mexico while providing tons of cocaine and other drugs to users in the United States.