(Reuters) - The daughter of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpin was being held in the United States after her arrest at the border last week, a U.S. official said on Wednesday, while the woman’s lawyer declined to confirm her parentage and said she was not cooperating with authorities.
Court documents showed that Alejandrina Gisselle Guzman-Salazar was detained on Friday after authorities said she attempted to cross from Tijuana, Mexico, into California on foot using a counterfeit visa and a false name.
A federal official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed that Guzman-Salazar is the daughter of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
Immigration officials often use their discretion in deciding whether to detain and charge those attempting to cross the border using a false name or counterfeit papers. Sometimes offenders are simply refused entry and released into Mexico.
“A false passport alone - she would have just been deported,” the federal official said of Guzman-Salazar. “Because ... she is related to drug traffickers, that’s why she’s going to court.”
Guzman-Salazar is being held pending a detention hearing scheduled for October 25.
An attorney for Guzman-Salazar, who does not face drug trafficking charges in either the United States or Mexico, also said the decision to keep her in custody was likely because authorities believe her to be the drug kingpin’s daughter.
“What the government thought about her lineage was probably a motivating factor in their decision to hold her,” attorney Jan Ronis of San Diego told Reuters, although he would neither confirm nor deny that his client was related to the notorious drug kingpin.
U.S. authorities hoping to get information from Guzman-Salazar about her father may be frustrated.
“Once you retain counsel you are not under any obligation to speak with U.S. officials, and she has not. Any suggestion that she is cooperating is untrue,” said Ronis, who has represented major drug cartel figures, including Benjamin Arellano-Felix, former leader of the Tijuana cartel.
El Chapo, whose nickname means “Shorty” in English, escaped a Mexican prison in 2001 to become the country’s highest-profile trafficker. Authorities say he commands groups of assassins ranging from the U.S. border into Central America.
Included on Forbes list of billionaires, Guzman has been indicted in the United States on dozens of charges of racketeering and conspiracy to import narcotics.
Washington has a $5 million reward for the capture of El Chapo, who was born in Mexico’s rugged western Sinaloa state where he started out under Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, who pioneered cocaine smuggling routes into the United States.
In recent months, U.S. and Mexican agents have been closing in on Guzman, and have arrested traffickers close to him and seized his assets on both sides of the border. Those associates include close family members, among them Guzman-Salazar’s mother, Maria Alejandrina Hernandez Salazar.
Guzman’s fourth wife, Emma Coronel, made headlines last year when she traveled to Los Angeles to give birth to twins.
Journalist Malcolm Beith, author of a book about Guzman, “The Last Narco,” said the two incidents could suggest a certain desperation on the drug lord’s part.
“I think Chapo’s days are probably numbered and he knows it and is seeking a fresh start for his kin,” Beith told Reuters in an interview.
Analysts say Guzman-Salazar holds out the tantalizing possibility of fresh leads in the hunt for El Chapo.
“If she has a cell phone number, if she any kind of recent interaction with her alleged father, that could be a very important clue to law enforcement as to his whereabouts, his methods of operation, and eventually his capture,” said David Shirk, the director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.
However, the circumstances of Guzman-Salazar’s arrest - trying to slip into California unaided on a fake visa - suggest that she may not have such close ties to her father, who is thought to control trafficking through Tijuana.
“The Sinaloa organization has lots of means of getting people and goods into the country,” Shirk said. “The fact that someone who would be very important to Chapo would come in this very pedestrian manner suggests ... that it was something that Chapo may not have known about.”
Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Trott