MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican marines on Thursday captured the son of the country’s most wanted man, cocaine king Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, who is the head of the Sinaloa Cartel and has a $5 million price on his head in the United States.
Jesus Alfredo Guzman, who is also wanted by U.S. courts on drug trafficking charges, was arrested in the western state of Jalisco on Thursday morning, the Mexican Navy said.
Marines said they caught the younger Guzman, who is known as El Gordo or “The Fat One,” in a residential house with an arsenal of rifles, pistols, grenades and about $160,000 in cash.
He was flown to Mexico City and paraded before the media wearing sneakers, a T-shirt and a bullet proof vest.
“He is a key element in the Sinaloa Cartel not just because of his blood link with the leader Shorty Guzman but because he is accused of being in charge of (the cartel‘s) assets,” said Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara.
The arrest comes just over a week before Mexicans vote for a new leader to replace President Felipe Calderon, who has waged a five-and-a-half-year offensive against drug gangs.
The constitution bars Calderon from running for re-election and the candidate of his ruling National Action Party (PAN), Josefina Vazquez Mota, is running in third place, in part because of the drug-war violence.
Jesus Alfredo Guzman was named as an operative in his father’s Sinaloa Cartel in a 2009 indictment in Chicago, which also accused him of racketeering and trafficking.
The indictment alleges that the Sinaloa cartel has transported 200 metric tons of cocaine since 1990, making more than $5.8 billion in cash proceeds.
Mexican officials did not specify if the son also faces charges in Mexico.
Joaquin Guzman, nicknamed “El Chapo” in Spanish, escaped a Mexican prison in a laundry cart in 2001 to become the country’s most high profile trafficker. He allegedly commands groups of assassins from the U.S. border into Central America.
Included on Forbes list of billionaires at $1 billion and Time’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people, Guzman has been indicted in the United States on dozens of charges of racketeering and conspiracy to import cocaine, heroin, marijuana and crystal meth.
U.S. and Mexican agents have been closing in on Guzman in recent months, arresting traffickers close to him and seizing his assets on both sides of the border.
The arrest of his son could lead agents closer still to the kingpin himself, said Mike Vigil, former head or international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
“The Mexican marines are very good at intelligence, especially at wiretaps. They could get frantic calls from different cartel members and be able to trace those calls. If they can get the son to talk, he could also give important information about the organizational structure,” Vigil said.
“However, it is likely that Joaquin Guzman would know within an hour that his son has been captured and take precautions.”
Mexican traffickers often work as families and the son of a fellow Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael “Mayo” Zambada is currently fighting trafficking charges in Chicago as part of the same case.
Edgar Guzman, another son of Joaquin Guzman, was shot dead by gunmen in his home state of Sinaloa in 2008. Other sons Ivan Guzman and Ovidio Guzman have also been named as traffickers by the U.S. Treasury and Americans are banned from doing business with their companies.
Mexican marines have become an elite force in the military who have captured or shot dead several drug kingpins since 2009.
Jalisco state has been a stronghold of the Sinaloa cartel since the 1980s, when traffickers first started to use Mexico as a “trampoline” to bounce cocaine into the United States.
It has recently seen an upsurge in violence as Sinaloa Cartel gunmen battle rivals from the upstart Zetas cartel, which is displacing older trafficking groups in many parts of Mexico.
In May, 18 decapitated bodies and heads were left on a Jalisco road, adding to about 345 drug-related killings in the state since January.
In total there have been more than 55,000 drug-related murders since Calderon took office in December 2006 and began his crackdown on cartels, leading many to criticize his security strategy.
Late on Thursday, the PAN released a statement saying the arrest of Guzman vindicated President Calderon’s tactics.
“The Calderon government’s struggle to capture the main bosses of organized crime has been carried out with bravery and firmness,” PAN leader Gustavo Madero said in the statement.
The candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Enrique Pena Nieto, has a double-digit lead heading into the July 1 election according to most opinion polls.
Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter and Simon Gardner; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Anthony Boadle