The United States appears almost certain to request the extradition of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who has twice escaped prison in Mexico.
The U.S. Department of Justice said Friday it doesn’t comment on pending extradition requests “before they become the subject of public judicial proceedings.”
But spokesman Peter Carr said: “I can confirm that it is the practice of the United States to seek extradition whenever defendants subject to U.S. charges are apprehended in another country.”
Guzman is included in at least seven indictments in various U.S. jurisdictions.
There also is a provisional arrest warrant in Mexico on behalf of the United States that was issued more than a decade ago, Carr said. At that time the United States asked Mexican authorities to send Guzman to the United States for prosecution.
Guzman escaped a Mexican prison in July, crawling through a hole in his cell block’s shower area into a lighted, ventilated tunnel, then to a half-built house.
On Friday, special forces from the Mexican navy captured him.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch didn’t bring up extradition in a statement to the media.
“The U.S. Department of Justice is proud to maintain a close and effective relationship with our Mexican counterparts, and we look forward to continuing our work together to ensure the safety and security of all our people,” she said.
A Justice Department official told CNN’s Pamela Brown that Lynch called Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez Gonzalez to congratulate him and to pledge continued cooperation.
A leading U.S. member of Congress said it would be best for the Unites States to handle Guzman’s incarceration.
“We cannot afford to let #ElChapo slip the bonds of justice again. We need to extradite him to the United States,” tweeted Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto addressed his nation, congratulating the people responsible for Guzman’s capture, but didn’t indicate whether he would consider extradition.
In the past, Mexican authorities asserted their sovereignty to first prosecute Guzman for crimes in Mexico, despite U.S. officials’ concerns the drug kingpin would escape from prison as he had done in 2001.
Analysts last year advanced many interpretations on why Mexico declined to extradite Guzman to the United States shortly after his arrest in 2014.
Some said Nieto wanted to limit U.S. involvement in Mexico’s drug war and felt having the United States possibly imprison Mexico’s top criminal would be a blow to the country’s ego and sovereignty.
Others said former Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam scuttled any potential deal.
While some theorize Mexican officials feared Guzman might expose dirty dealings among the country’s politicians, Murillo Karam said he disapproved of the United States cutting deals with criminals — as it did in 2013 with Jesús Vicente “El Vicentillo” Zambada Niebla, the son of Guzman’s top lieutenant — and not sharing with Mexico any intelligence from their cooperation.
Officially, Murillo Karam said Guzman would not be extradited until he finished serving his time in Mexico, a sentiment echoed by Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Eduardo Medina-Mora. When Guzman escaped in 2001, he had served seven years of a more than 20-year sentence, and he racked up eight more charges before being recaptured.
Michael Braun, a former chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said Mexico would be wise to send Guzman to the United States.
“The only way that the government of Mexico is going to ensure absolutely that they don’t go through another embarrassing situation, another embarrassing escape, is to extradite him to the United States,” he said.
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