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Mexico Extradites Top Drug Lord 'El Chapo' to US


In this photo provided by U.S. law enforcement, authorities escort Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, center, from a plane to a waiting caravan of SUVs at Long Island MacArthur Airport, Jan. 19, 2017, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.

Mexico extradited top drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to New York on Thursday, ending a career that included two jail breaks and a lead role in a national drug war, the day before Donald Trump assumes the U.S. presidency.

He arrived in New York late Thursday and is expected to be arraigned there Friday. New York is one of several U.S. jurisdictions where Guzman faces charges.

Guzman, 59, was one of the world's most wanted drug kingpins until he was captured a year ago. Six months earlier, he had bust out of a high-security penitentiary in central Mexico through a mile-long tunnel, his second dramatic prison escape.

"The government ... today handed Mr. Guzman Loera to the U.S. authorities," the foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to a court decision on Thursday rejecting a legal challenge by his lawyers against extradition.

A photograph shown on Mexican television appeared to show Guzman being lead over tarmac by black-clad security officials.

Mexican officials said the timing of the move was both a last-minute gift to outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama and an olive branch to Trump, who has regularly insulted Mexico and threatened to tear up the NAFTA trade agreement that underpins its economy.

After Guzman slipped out of jail in July 2015, Trump said on Twitter he "would kick his ass" as president.

Guzman is charged in six separate indictments throughout the United States. He faces charges ranging from money laundering to drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder in cities that include Chicago, Miami and New York.

His career began in the opium and cannabis-farming hills of the northern state of Sinaloa but he grew to oversee perhaps the world's largest transnational cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling organization.

Guzman earned almost legendary status as an outlaw, but his ambition to control more trafficking routes was a key dynamic in Mexico's decade-long drug war that left more than 100,000 dead and from which his organization emerged mostly victorious.

The U.S. Justice Department thanked Mexico for "extensive cooperation and assistance in securing the extradition of Guzman Loera to the United States."

Juan Pablo Badillo, a lawyer for the smuggler, said he was surprised at the extradition and said four appeals were outstanding against Guzman's extradition.

"The transfer is not in line with the law," Badillo said.

Federal police officers stand guard near the jail where Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was imprisoned before being extradited to the United States on Thursday, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Jan. 19, 2017.
Federal police officers stand guard near the jail where Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was imprisoned before being extradited to the United States on Thursday, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Jan. 19, 2017.

Another of the gangster's lawyers, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, said he was waiting at the Ciudad Juarez prison to visit his client when he learned of the decision.

A Mexican official said the move was firstly recognition of Obama's efforts to work with Mexico on Guzman, but also to show good will to Trump in sending a source of such valuable information on the criminal underworld to the United States.

Mexico is expecting to have to negotiate hard to limit the economic pain of Trump's protectionist policies, and is sending its foreign minister to meet his aides next week.

"For mutual benefit they preferred to do it now, and not leave it open for the future, because they really don't know what will happen after tomorrow," said Eduardo Guerrero, director of Lantia Consultores.

However, Mike Vigil, a former DEA chief of international operations, said the Mexican government sped up Guzman's extradition so Trump would not be able to claim the victory as his own.

"The last thing they wanted was for Trump to take credit for Chapo Guzman's extradition," Vigil said.

The kingpin will be detained in New York, probably in the high-security Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, Vigil said.

He left for New York at 3:15 pm local time, one U.S. official said. A worker at the airport said he was transported in a King Air aircraft.

The Mexican court system said in a statement Guzman would be tried in Texas and California, where he faces charges in El Paso and San Diego.

Guzman was being held in a prison in the infamously violent border city of Ciudad Juarez in the northern state of Chihuahua, where his Sinaloa cartel beat the rival Juarez cartel into submission.

Regardless of whether the move was a gift for Obama, Trump or both, many in both countries will be relieved to have him in the more robust U.S. prison system.

"It's a good thing to finally get him to the U.S. side," said a senior U.S. law enforcement official based in Mexico.