MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Mexican judge has ruled that drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman can be extradited to face charges in the United States, the country’s federal court authority said on Monday, days after he was moved to a prison near the U.S. border.
On Saturday, Guzman was transferred to a prison in Ciudad Juarez on Mexico’s northern border and a senior Mexican security official said the kingpin’s extradition was in motion and would happen by mid-year.
Guzman, boss of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, was for years the world’s most wanted drug trafficker until his capture by Mexican Marines in February 2014. He then embarrassed the government by escaping from prison through a tunnel last July.
The government recaptured him in January and President Enrique Pena Nieto said soon afterwards he had taken steps to ensure Guzman was extradited as soon as possible.
He faces charges ranging from money laundering to drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder in cities that include Chicago, Miami and New York.
Juan Pablo Badillo, one of Guzman’s lawyers, said his client’s legal situation was still being processed and that to extradite him now would be a violation of his human rights.
Badillo listed nine appeals pending against Guzman’s extradition. However, government officials have said in private the decision to extradite the drug lord is essentially a political call dependent on the president.
A government source said on Monday nothing was likely to happen to Guzman for weeks.
Mexico’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that it had received notification of the judge’s decision, adding that once it received the case file, it would have 20 business days to analyze and decide on the matter. The judge’s identity was not disclosed.
In a radio interview, Eduardo Guerrero, head of Mexico’s federal prisons service, denied Guzman’s transfer was a preamble to extradition, noting that prisoners awaiting extradition go to the Hermosillo jail in northwest Mexico.
It was not clear why he was taken to Ciudad Juarez, the lowest rated federal prison in a 2015 National Human Rights Commission report on factors including illicit activities and violent incidents.
Guzman’s cartel is present in the city, fighting a war for control that made it the world’s most murderous town in 2010. Crime has since dropped.
At 9.00 pm on Friday authorities entered Guzman’s cell at the Altiplano jail in Central Mexico, told him to put on a shirt and pack up his things, placing them in transparent bags, Guerrero said.
At 1.30 am on Saturday, Guzman was flown by helicopter to Mexico City airport, where he boarded a police plane and flew to Ciudad Juarez.
Guzman asked once where he was being taken, but was not told until he arrived in the Ciudad Juarez lockup, Guerrero added.
Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez, Lizbeth Diaz and Gabriel Stargardter; Writing by Dave Graham and Tom Brown; Editing by Andrew Hay