Rebecca Blackwell / AP Photo

Mexico formally launches process to extradite El Chapo to US

Interpol agents visit Joaquín Guzmán in maximum security prison; process is expected to be lengthy

Mexican officials on Sunday formally launched the process to extradite recaptured drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the United States, starting what could be a lengthy road full of legal appeals and maneuvering.

Agents notified Guzmán at the maximum-security Altiplano prison, where he is being held after being recaptured on Friday — six months after he escaped through a tunnel out of the same lockup.

The attorney general's office said in a statement that Guzmán was informed that he was wanted in the United States. The notification was made by agents of the international police agency Interpol, who served two arrest warrants to the jailed drug lord.

He faces drug trafficking charges in several U.S. states and American officials had hoped to extradite him after he was captured in February 2014.

Mexican officials previously said they were willing to extradite Guzmán but cautioned that the extradition process might take a while. His attorney Juan Pablo Badillo has said the defense has already filed six motions to challenge extradition requests.

According to the attorney general's office, the U.S. filed extradition requests June 25, while Guzman was in custody, and another Sept. 3, after he escaped. The Mexican government determined they were valid within the extradition treaty and sent them to a panel of federal judges, who gave orders for detention on July 29 and Sept. 8.

Now that he has been recaptured, Mexico has to start processing the extradition requests anew, according to the law.

On Saturday, a Mexican federal law enforcement official said the quickest he could be extradited would be six months, but even that is not likely because lawyers will file appeals. He said that the appeals are usually turned down, but each one means a judge has to schedule a hearing.

“That can take weeks or months, and that delays the extradition,” he said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. “We've had cases that take six years.”

Badillo has said that his client shouldn't be extradited to the U.S. because “our country must respect national sovereignty, the sovereignty of its institutions to impart justice.”

Mexico's willingness to extradite Guzmán is a sharp turnaround from the last time he was captured, in 2014, when then–Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said the extradition would happen only after Guzmán finished his sentence in Mexico, in “300 or 400 years.”

But the legendary drug lord's July 2015 scape embarrassed President Enrique Peña Nieto's government.

Courtesy of Sean Penn

Guzmán was reapprehended Friday, and the recapture of the drug lord took a surprise, Hollywood-like twist when a Mexican official said security forces located the world's most wanted trafficker thanks to a secret meeting with U.S. actor Sean Penn.

Penn's article about his meeting with Guzmán, who has twice escaped from Mexican maximum security prisons, appeared late Saturday on the website of Rolling Stone magazine. It was purportedly held at an undisclosed hideout in northern Mexico in late 2015, several months before his recapture Friday in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, after six months on the run.

The article reports that Guzmán defends his work at the head of the world's biggest drug trafficking organization. When asked if he is to blame for high addiction rates, he responds: “No, that is false, because the day I don't exist, it's not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking? That's false.”

A senior Obama administration official told television news shows on Sunday morning that Guzmán's boasting about his heroin empire in the interview was “maddening.”

”One thing I will tell you is that this braggadocious action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including the United States, is maddening,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said on CNN's “State of the Union.”

“We see a heroin epidemic, an opioid addiction epidemic, in this country,” he said. “We're going to stay on top of this with our Mexican counterparts until we get that back in the box. But El Chapo's behind bars. That's where he should stay.”

When asked if the United States would make Penn available to Mexican authorities, McDonough responded that he didn't want to get ahead of any possible action but that it “poses a lot of very interesting questions, both for him and for others involved in this ... so-called interview.”

Penn didn’t have to tell law enforcement about his October meeting, according to legal scholars interviewed by The Los Angeles Times.

“He’s under no obligation to inform the authorities that he’s been in touch with El Chapo,” said Robert Weisberg, a professor at Stanford Law School, told the Times.

Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, compared Penn's legal situation to those of the journalists who conducted interviews with Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked documents.

Meeting with an interview subject is not against the law. “We don’t have a duty — necessarily — to help the government,” Levenson told the newspaper. “You just can’t get in the way.”

In the article, Penn describes taking elaborate security measures ahead of the clandestine meeting. But apparently they were not enough.

A Mexican federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to comment on the issue, told The Associated Press it was the Penn meeting that led authorities to Guzmán in a rural part of Durango state in October.

Authorities who later raided the area decided not to open fire on Guzmán because he was with two women and child. He was able to escape, but they were able to later track him to a house in Los Mochis where Mexican marines nabbed him after a shootout that left five people dead.

The official said the meeting between Penn and Guzmán was held in Tamazula, a community in Durango state that neighbors Sinaloa, the home of Guzman's drug cartel.

On Friday, Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez said that Guzmán's contact with actors and producers for a possible film about him helped give law enforcement a lead on tracking and capturing the world's most notorious drug kingpin.

In the Rolling Stone article, Penn wrote that Guzmán was interested in having a movie filmed on his life. Pen said Guzmán wanted Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who facilitated the meeting between the men, involved in the project.

“He was interested in seeing the story of his life told on film, but would entrust its telling only to Kate,” wrote Penn, who appears in a photo posted with the article shaking hands with Guzmán, whose face is uncovered.

Penn's long and often rambling essay, widely mocked on social media, included comments from Guzmán on everything from his childhood to his thoughts on the drug trade.

It also raised questions of ethics and judgment, namely whether Penn, who has written about his visits to Iraq and with Cuba's Raúl Castro and Venezuela's late President Hugo Chávez, should have met secretly with one of the world's most wanted fugitives, whether the actor crossed the line by giving Guzmán approval over the article before it was published and whether Penn trivialized El Chapo's murderous past by asking him such questions as “Do you have any dreams?” and “If you could change the world, would you?”

A Rolling Stone spokeswoman did not immediately return requests for comment.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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