Mexico's government said on Saturday that it is backing US requests to extradite drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán to the United States, although it has also stressed there is a lengthy legal process to go through before this can happen.
The Attorney General's office released a statement saying the recapture of the kingpin on Friday — six months after he escaped from maximum-security prison — meant it could give a new push to two previous extradition requests that were on ice while he was a fugitive.
"With the recapture of Guzmán Loera, the respective procedures for extradition should start," the statement said. "Once he is notified, the subject of the request has three days to respond."
The statement went on to underline the multiple legal hurdles it expects to face in the form of injunctions sought by Chapo's lawyers. "If the injunctions are denied, then the extradition can go ahead," the statement said.
The careful wording of the statement reflected the thorniness of the extradition issue in Mexico.
The failure to extradite him before his elaborate jailbreak — his second from a Mexican prison — strained relations with the United States.
Sending Guzmán to the United States would help allay fears the drug lord could use his massive fortune to bribe prison officials and escape yet again.
It would, however, also amount to a tacit admission by the Mexican government that it cannot control him.
After his previous arrest in February 2014, Mexican officials publicly insisted that Chapo should stay in Mexico. Their position apparently changed shortly before he escaped last July, though this was kept quiet at the time.
Saturday's statement clarified that the two US extradition requests dated from June and August. Both, it said, were admitted by the attorney general's office within days of their presentation.
According to sources within the government consulted by Reuters who are familiar with the situation, the commitment to pushing extradition forward is now clear.
"The objective is to fulfill the extradition request," one of the sources said.
Another source said that the government expected Chapo to be sent to the US by the middle of the year, but that the timing depended on the success of his legal team's multiple injunctions.
The US government so far appears willing to give Mexico time to make good on its promise without piling on the pressure. Though the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals are believed to have helped in the recapture, American officials have taken no credit and instead lavished praise on Mexico.
Juan Pablo Badillo, a lawyer representing Guzmán, said on Saturday that his client could not be extradited.
"In strict accordance with the constitution, he cannot and should not be extradited to any foreign country," Badillo told Milenio TV. "Why? Because he is Mexican, and Mexico has wise laws and a fair constitution, and there is absolute confidence in the prisons authority."
Badillo has already filed multiple injunctions against his client's possible extradition both before and after his escape. He told VICE News on Friday that he was preparing more in the wake of his capture.
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