Mexican cop behind El Chapo's arrest sent to U.S. for safety: sources

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A Mexican federal police officer who captured drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in northwest Mexico last year was moved for his own safety to a posting at the Mexican embassy in Washington, DC, according to two Mexican law enforcement sources.

FILE PHOTO: 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. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

Nicolas Gonzalez was a senior federal police officer in the northwestern state of Sinaloa during the January 2016 capture of Guzman, the sources said. Gonzalez is now Mexico’s law enforcement emissary in Washington, according to the sources and the Mexican foreign ministry website.

Currently awaiting trial in New York after being deported to the United States, Guzman was re-captured in the Sinaloa town of Los Mochis. The kingpin, who ran the feared Sinaloa drug cartel, had been on the run after infamously escaping through a tunnel from his high-security jail in 2015.

During the navy-led operation to detain Guzman, the drug lord and his henchman evaded the marines by escaping via the sewer. However, after stealing a car, they were stopped by federal police who had been tasked with blocking roads out of Los Mochis and were unaware of the navy’s hunt, the sources said.

The police officers who inadvertently stopped Guzman, for speeding and driving in a stolen car, phoned Gonzalez, who took over custody of Guzman at the motel where he was being held.

Gonzalez was unwilling to hand his prized charge to the navy, the sources said.

As such, the capture of Guzman after escaping the navy was a big victory for the federal police and brought Gonzalez into the spotlight.

Gonzalez’s quiet transfer to Washington last year was portrayed as a promotion, but was mainly due to fears for the safety of him and his family, the two sources said.

Violence in Sinaloa has jumped since Guzman’s detention, as tensions within the cartel and incursions from other criminal gangs have sparked a sharp rise in killings.

Gonzalez could not immediately be reached for comment, and the foreign ministry referred questions to the National Security Commission, which did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Guzman was transferred under heavy guard from his cell to a court in Brooklyn, New York, on Monday.

Editing by Marcy Nicholson