Notorious Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as El Chapo, was extradited Thursday to the United States, where he’s wanted on charges that include homicide and drug trafficking, Mexico’s foreign ministry said.
Guzman, who twice broke out of Mexican maximum-security prisons, had been incarcerated in Mexico for the last year. He was recaptured in January 2016, following six months on the run after tunneling out of a prison the year before. Since May, he had been held in a jail in Ciudad Juarez, near the U.S. border.
He was being flown to New York, according to The Associated Press.
The U.S. Justice Department said in a statement that the government “extends its gratitude to the Government of Mexico for their extensive cooperation and assistance in securing the extradition of Guzman Loera to the United States.”
Guzmán headed the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico’s largest drug-trafficking organization. His breakout from the Altiplano prison through a tunnel in his shower in July 2015 was a major embarrassment for the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
When Mexican security officials recaptured him after the tunnel escape last year, Mexico agreed to honor a U.S. extradition request, which some observers viewed as a tacit admission that the Mexican government might not be able to keep Guzmán from escaping again.
Guzmán has been indicted in seven U.S. jurisdictions on charges that include homicide, drug trafficking and money laundering. Guzmán’s legal team fought the extradition hard, delaying his transfer to the U.S. for more than a year.
Mexico refuses extradition to countries that will seek the death penalty. New York does not have capital punishment.
Mike Vigil, the former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said the Mexican Supreme Court refused to hear Guzmán’s appeals for fear of retribution from the Sinaloa Cartel. Sending him to the U.S. will assure that he breaks ties with the criminal organization he once headed.
“I feel very confident that he will be convicted and his reign of terror and drug trafficking is over with,” Vigil told The WorldPost. “He will never see the beautiful mountains of Sinaloa again.”
Several high-profile associates or rivals of Guzmán have pleaded guilty in U.S. federal courts in recent years to drug trafficking charges. They sometimes reappear as government witnesses to bolster U.S. prosecutors’ cases against newly extradited traffickers.
When Guzmán’s ally-turned-enemy Alfredo “El Mochomo” Beltrán Leyva faced trial in Washington last year on drug-trafficking charges, a list of potential government witnesses included brutal enforcer Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal and Jesús “El Rey” Zambada, both of whom had taken earlier plea deals. Beltrán Leyva himself took a plea deal days before his trial was scheduled to start. His lawyer denied at the time that Beltrán Leyva had agreed to act as a government witness.
A Guzmán trial could offer a unique window into the operations of the largest drug-trafficking enterprise in the Americas. Mexican cartel leaders, however, have often pleaded guilty instead of fighting in court when facing major charges in the United States.