The Mexican government said on Thursday evening that it had extradited Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, long considered one of the most powerful cartel bosses in Mexico and in the world.
Earlier on Thursday, the Mexican Supreme Court dismissed appeals filed by Guzmán’s lawyers in an attempt to halt the extradition.
“The judges decided not to hear the (appeal for) protection” from extradition, a source in the court told AFP.
That source said the court had passed the appeals to a different “collegiate” panel of judges for a ruling, and one of Guzmán’s lawyers said that the kingpin’s legal team would look at the court’s decision and decide whether to appeal to a regional human-rights court.
However, in a statement released hours after that decision was announced, the Mexican government said Guzmán had been turned over to the US.
“The government of the republic today delivered Mr. Guzmán to the authorities of the United States of America,” the Mexican foreign ministry said in its statement.
“Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, known by various aliases including ‘El Chapo,’ has been extradited and is en route to the United States to face criminal charges in connection with his leadership of the Mexican organized crime syndicate known as the ‘Sinaloa Cartel,'” the US Justice Department said in a statement issued on Thursday evening.
After a July 2015 jailbreak, Guzmán was recaptured not far from his birthplace in Sinaloa state in January 2016. He was at first rejailed in the prison from which he escaped, but in early May 2016 he was transferred to a prison outside Ciudad Juarez in northern Mexico.
Security around the prison, Cefereso No. 9, was heightened upon Guzmán’s arrival, with nearly 700 soldiers and guards in and around the prison. Many viewed the transfer as a prelude to extradition.
Guzmán – whose ill-gotten wealth earned him a place on Forbes’ billionaires list and whose cartel oncesupplied“80% of the heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine – with a street value of $3 billion – that floods the Chicago region each year” – spent his time in solitude,reading“Don Quixote” and “The Purpose Driven Life.”
The Mexican government has received several extradition requests for Guzmán from several US District Courts.
In May 2016, the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto accepted two of those bids, from the Southern District of California and the Western District of Texas, to try Guzmán on charges including homicide, money laundering, and criminal association.
Guzmán’s lawyers have waged a months-long legal battle to thwart the extradition, citing purported violations of the kingpin’s rights as reasons to quash the transfer.
While it has not yet been confirmed where Guzmán will face trial in the US – should his case not be concluded with a plea or deal beforehand – the kingpin is reportedly headed to New York City. According to AFP’s Laurent Thomet, the kingpin is slated to arrive at 10 p.m. ET.
The Eastern District of New York, based in Brooklyn, is one of the seven US District Courts with indictments pending against the Sinaloa cartel chief. The Eastern District’s indictment charges Guzmán with overseeing a trafficking cartel and accuses him and other Sinaloa cartel leaders of hiring hit men who conspired to committ murder, torture, and kidnapping.
Guzmán is headed to New York because the city’s federal courts have “a history of trying very complex conspiracy cases,” Mike Vigil, a former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Business Insider on Thursday evening.
New York’s history with high-profile defendants and complex cases was an important selling point, as “they want to make sure Guzmán gets convicted, because it would be very embarrassing for the United States to solicit his extradition and not get a conviction,” said Vigil, author of of “Metal Coffins: The Blood Alliance Cartel.”
The US attorney in Miami, another District Court with an indictment against Guzmán, joined the Eastern District’s case as a special counsel in mid-2016. There is also a possibility the indictments issued by the courts in Texas and California will be consolidated with the New York case, Vigil said.
Guzmán’s extradition appears to have been deliberately timed.
Coming just hours before US President-elect Donald Trump takes office, the Mexican government sent the kingpin north “because they want to make sure President Obama gets credit for the extradition,” Vigil told Business Insider, citing conversations he had with Mexican officials.
Trump, who dedicated much of his campaign to denouncing Mexico and Mexican immigrants, is not held in high regard among Mexican policymakers, Vigil said. “They didn’t want Trump to get credit.”
In the months prior to Guzmán’s extradition, other observers suggested the Peña Nieto administration may tried to time the transfer in order to ingratiate itself with the incoming Trump administration.
Whatever the motivation, the extradition comes just days before Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo and Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray travel to Washington to meet with Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus and other adivsers, including Jared Kushner and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Videgaray, recently appointed to the foreign ministry after stepping down from the finance ministry in September, has ties to Kushner and is viewed as a potential go-between with Washington for the Peña Nieto administration.
While the news of Guzmán’s extradition came as a surprise, it’s likely US and Mexican authorities have been coordinating on the transfer, especially if it was meant to happen just before the end of Obama’s term.
“The US government at the highest levels is coordinating closely with the Mexican executive branch at the highest levels to make sure that if the judicial system in Mexico does ultimately approve of his extradition, that the United States has some slight advance notice and to where he will be sent,” Peter Vincent, a former legal adviser at the US Department of Homeland Security, told Business Insider in September 2016.
Guzmán was jailed twice in Mexico, escaping both times before his ultimate capture in January 2016. He has guided his cartel from the rugged hills of northwest Mexico to the top of Mexico’s narco hierarchy, along the way waging bloody wars on rival cartels and against the Mexican government.
His transfer to the US is a “great moral victory,” Vigil told Business Insider.
“His extradition to the United States will remove him from his criminal infrastructure, but it’s not going to have any impact on drug trafficking, because the Sinaloa cartel” – still one of the most powerful cartels in Mexico and in the world – “will continue to function,” Vigil said, citing the cartel’s resilient leadership structure.
“They have a very strong bench.”