Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman may be getting closer to his eventual extradition to the United States to face multiple criminal charges. Last week Guzman was moved from a prison in central Mexico to a prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. As the extradition process continues, a number of American cities are jockeying to be the first to prosecute El Chapo.
Guzman's move from a prison in Altiplano to Ciudad Juarez came as a surprise to Guzman and his attorney, Juan Pablo Badillo. “It's an absurd action,” said Badillo. “The authorities shouldn't do this. It was totally unexpected. At this moment, he can't be extradited.”
Another of Guzman's attorneys, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, says his new prison cell is dirty, and the prison makes family and attorney-client visits more difficult to arrange. Guzman is being kept in isolation and is moved to a different cell every 24 hours. Rodriguez has filed an appeal to return Guzman to the Altiplano maximum security prison near Mexico City.
Mexican authorities said the move was not in anticipation of extradition, but instead was due to upgrades being made in the central Mexican prison facility. However, a Chihuahua state official said that the extradition process could be handled more quickly through the U.S. consulate in Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. The official also said that the handover may happen in a matter of weeks.
A Mexican journalist, Carlos Loret de Mola, wrote that his sources in the government said officials were nervous after a power outage at the Altiplano prison affected the wing Guzman was held. Prison officials may have transferred Guzman to the Ciudad Juarez jail out of a concern that a blackout may be related to an escape attempt.
El Chapo is well-known for his prison escapes. Last year, he escaped from the Altiplano high-security prison using an elaborate tunnel system accessed through his prison cell shower. The tunnel was a mile long, and equipped with lighting and ventilation, and had a motorcycle-rail system which allowed Guzman to quickly travel to the end of the tunnel, escaping through an abandoned house. When he was later captured in January, he almost escaped through another tunnel that led to the city's storm sewer system, but was eventually apprehended by federal police.
Guzman is facing criminal charges in Chicago, Miami, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. His charges include money laundering, drug trafficking, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit multiple murders. However, it remains unclear where he may first go to stand trial. Some Mexican officials have said he will first go to Illinois to await trial, others have suggested Brooklyn will be the first stop. Prosecutors in El Paso may also try and get the first shot at El Chapo. However, the charges on which the extradition request is based stem from a 1996 case brought in San Diego, California.
Mexican officials have said a judge ruled that the legal requirements for Guzman to be extradited to the US to face criminal charges have been met. However, the Mexican Foreign Relations Department still has to approve of the extradition. The Foreign Ministry has 20 days to issue a decision, and then Guzman's attorneys have 30 days to appeal the decision. According to his attorney's the appeal process can take between 8 months to a year.