Updated on May 9 2016 at 1 p.m. ET
A Mexican judge has ruled that Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the notorious drug trafficker and head of the Sinaloa Cartel, can be extradited to the U.S. just days after he was moved to a prison near the Texas border.
On Monday, an unnamed judge agreed to the legal requirements and terms laid out that would see Guzmán transported to the U.S., the Associated Press reported. That gives Mexico’s foreign ministry 20 days to approve extradition and time for his defense attorney to appeal should the convicted drug lord want to, though he has previously sought extradition.
On Saturday, Mexico’s Interior Ministry moved Guzmán because it said upgrades needed to be made to the Altiplano prison, a maximum-security facility where he was being held, and from which he escaped last summer. But the decision to move Guzmán to the north of the country led to speculation both that he might be extradited to the U.S. and that the transfer was meant to foil another of his escape plots.
The Dallas Morning News reported:
The government’s explanation only generated more questions and doubts from security experts and a former U.S. intelligence agent.
Some speculated that Guzmán, whose organization is known for building elaborate tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border to smuggle drugs and for burrowing right into his prison cell to enable his last escape, had been plotting something again — and so he was moved. Few believe the move was a prelude to extradition to the U.S.
Still, there were questions.
“I’m shocked that the Mexican government would send him to the Juárez area,” said Arturo Fontes, who for more than half of his 28 years as an FBI agent tracked Guzmán’s whereabouts throughout Mexico. “Juárez remains one of his strongholds. He’s a powerful person, the most powerful cartel leader of our time.”
Fontes, president of Fontes International Solutions, a consulting firm, added, “Either the Mexican government really intends to ship him out to the United States immediately, or something else is afoot. There are no coincidences here. I’m not buying the government’s explanation. For the sake of the Mexican government, they need to extradite him ASAP or risk being a joke again.”
Guzmán has escaped twice from prison, once in 2001, and the second time he escaped last summer from the Altiplano prison through a mile-long underground tunnel. It was a huge embarrassment to the country’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who’d wanted to take out his country’s drug traffickers with less help from the U.S. than the previous administration had used. Recently, Guzmán’s wife has complained to the media that security at the Altiplano prison had purposefully kept Guzmán awake to confuse him, and moved him daily between cells. It had gotten so bad, that Guzmán’s attorney said the drug leader wants to be extradited to the U.S.
Guzmán’s lawyer even told the Mexican magazine Proceso that as the drug kingpin was readied to be taken from Altiplano to Ciudad Juarez, he assumed he’d inevitably be taken to the U.S. His lawyer said: “They took him out of the cell, handcuffed him and took him away. When they were leaving he heard the helicopter and said, ‘Now I will be extradited’”
The prison where Guzmán is now being held is one of the country’s newest, and is about 25 miles outside of Ciudad Juárez. The city was the epicenter of Mexico’s drug war, much of it caused over a fight for control between Guzmán’s cartel and others. The Dallas Morning News reported that from 2008 to 2012, almost 11,000 people were killed in the city.