Mexico approves extradition of El Chapo to US

US authorities assure Mexico that drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman will not face the death penalty when he’s extracted.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016.

Mexico approved the extradition of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the United States on Friday.

Before the decision, US authorities assured Mexico that El Chapo would not face the death penalty.

Juan Pablo Badillo, one of Guzman's lawyers, said he would file "many" legal challenges against the decision.

Guzman, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was the world's most wanted drug kingpin until his capture in January.

He was on the run for six months, after he broke out of a high-security penitentiary in central Mexico through a mile-long tunnel that came right up into his cell.

Mexico's attorney general inspects the tunnel that El Chapo escaped through. (Reuters)

Mexico's foreign ministry said Guzman would face charges including drug trafficking, money laundering and murder in US federal courts in California and Texas.

The ministry said it was given "sufficient guarantees" by the US government that Guzman would not be face the death penalty.

A US Justice Department official confirmed that the US had agreed not to seek capital punishment, but declined to discuss any further details about the case or what the department will do, pending an appeal from Guzman.

Guzman's escape last year was a major embarrassment to President Enrique Pena Nieto, who entered office amid a bloody war between the government and drug cartels launched by his predecessor.

Pena Nieto reduced cooperation with the United States after taking office in 2013.

Yet, following Guzman's recapture in January the Mexican president said he had taken steps to ensure the kingpin would be extradited as soon as possible.

Earlier this month, Guzman was moved from a jail in central Mexico to a prison in Ciudad Juarez on the US border, seen as a step closer to extradition.

Mexican authorities say they tracked Guzman down after he sought to make a movie about his life and met with Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo and Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn, who published an interview with the drug boss in the Rolling Stone magazine.

Actor Sean Penn shakes hands with Mexican drug lord Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman in Mexico, in this undated Rolling Stone handout photo obtained by Reuters on Jan. 10, 2016.

The trio met at a jungle hideout, unwittingly monitored by Mexican security forces.

Guzman was finally apprehended around three months later as he sought to flee through drains from a safehouse in his native state of Sinaloa, along with his chief hitman.

Guzman, whose nickname means "Shorty," first escaped prison in 2001 by bribing prison officials, and went on to dominate the world of Mexican drug trafficking.

He was recaptured by Pena Nieto's government in 2014, but escaped in July 2015, by capitalising on the drug-tunneling skills his cartel honed on the US border.

Joaquin El Chapo Guzman (L) is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the Navy's airstrip in Mexico City February 22, 2014. (Reuters)

A mile-long tunnel equipped with electric lights, rails and a motorbike came out directly into the shower of his prison cell and he simply slipped away.

Dozens of people were arrested over the jailbreak, though details of who Guzman bribed and how his accomplices knew exactly where to dig into the prison remain scarce.

With Chapo back behind bars, his more discreet partner, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, who jointly heads the powerful Sinaloa cartel, is the last major Mexican capo standing.

TRTWorld, Reuters