Mexico says U.S. fentanyl crackdown led to botched arrest of El Chapo's son

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s security minister said on Friday that U.S. efforts to curb the opioid fentanyl were behind the brief arrest of a son of imprisoned kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman last month in Sinaloa, home turf for the notorious Sinaloa Cartel.

FILE PHOTO: Ovidio Guzman, son of kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is briefly captured by Mexican military police in a residential compound near the centre of Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa, Mexico October 17, 2019 in this still image taken from a helmet camera footage obtained October 30, 2019. Mexican Government TV/Handout via REUTERS

After the United States requested his extradition, Ovidio Guzman was briefly arrested, then freed by outnumbered officials who feared a bloody confrontation with cartel henchmen.

Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said Guzman was wanted on allegations of smuggling fentanyl, the potent opioid responsible for an overdose epidemic in the United States.

Guzman’s role has grown since his father Joaquin Guzman was extradited in 2017 to face drug charges. Joaquin Guzman is now serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.

“One of the very reasons for the U.S. interest, and the basis for the extradition order, is in fact the suspected link between this alleged criminal and introducing fentanyl into the United States,” Durazo told reporters.

A U.S. district court indictment against Ovidio Guzman, issued in February, charged him with conspiring to traffic cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana, but did not mention fentanyl.

U.S. President Donald Trump in August said Mexico needed to do more to halt fentanyl production and smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Sinaloa Cartel is likely one of Mexico’s top fentanyl traffickers to the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

More recently, the cartel appears to have moved into production of the drug.

In September, DEA officers took part in a “covert mission” in Sinaloa, the agency said in a statement at the time.

“Profit margins for fentanyl and methamphetamine are driving the drug trade by the cartels,” the statement said.

In April, officials raided a fentanyl laboratory in Sinaloa’s capital of Culiacan, where the younger Guzman and his brothers control the drug trade. Law enforcement also busted a fentanyl laboratory in Mexico City last year.

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reported earlier this year that 130 people die every day in the United States after overdosing on opioids, which include prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel