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Extraditing ' El Chapo' to US could take a year: Mexico

11 January 2016, 19:02

Mexico City - Extraditing Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the United States could take a year or more, Mexican authorities said Monday, while the slippery drug lord waits in the prison he previously escaped from.

The extradition bid marks a reversal from President Enrique Pena Nieto's refusal to send Guzman across the border prior to his July escape from a maximum-security prison.

After Guzman was recaptured on Friday, authorities launched the extradition process on Sunday, based on two US petitions on a clutch of charges, including drug trafficking and homicide.

"I could say as an estimate that it could be at least a year," Jose Manuel Merino, the international affairs official at the attorney general's office, told Radio Formula.

But Merino warned that the process could last as a long as four to six years depending how hard Guzman's lawyers fight his extradition through injunctions.

Guzman's lawyer, Juan Pablo Badillo, has vowed to launch a "tough" legal battle that could reach the Supreme Court.

Guzman is now back at the Altiplano maximum-security prison, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) west of Mexico City.

The drug lord was previously arrested in February 2014 but it only took him 17 months to escape from the penitentiary after his henchmen dug a 1.5-kilometer (one-mile) tunnel to set him free.

A dozen prison officials have been arrested over the escape.

Officials defended the decision to put him back in the same prison, saying security was beefed up, including with the installation of metal rods under the floor. Guzman escaped through a hole in his cell's shower floor.

A small tank was stationed outside the prison.

Guzman's escape humiliated Pena Nieto, who had vowed to keep him behind bars and put him on trial in Mexico even though the drug lord had already fled from another prison in 2001.

While Guzman could face US justice, Mexican authorities want to question US actor Sean Penn over his clandestine meeting with the then-fugitive in October.

A Mexican federal official told AFP that the attorney general's office also wants to speak with Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who brokered the meeting.

"That is correct, of course, it's to determine responsibilities," the official said on condition of anonymity, declining to provide more details, including a possible date for an interview with the stars.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told CNN that Penn's meeting with Guzman "poses a lot of interesting questions for him and others involved in this so-called interview. We'll see what happens."

US rock magazine Rolling Stone on Saturday published the interview that Guzman gave to the actors in an undisclosed jungle clearing in Mexico.

Despite Penn's cloak-and-dagger efforts to keep the gathering secret, another Mexican official told AFP that authorities found out about the meeting, which eventually helped them track down the Sinaloa drug cartel chief.

Guzman was recaptured on Friday in the seaside city of Los Mochis, in his native northwestern state of Sinaloa, in a military operation that left five suspects dead.

Attorney General Arely Gomez said on Friday that Guzman had met with unnamed actors and producers to discuss making a biopic about himself, and that it was part of a "new line of investigation."

Some legal experts, however, doubt that Penn could face charges in the United States or Mexico.

"I seriously doubt that charges will be brought against them even though Sean Penn took extraordinary steps to prevent authorities from using his phone to track the whereabouts of Chapo," said Mike Vigil, a former senior official at the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The meeting sparked criticism in the United States, where Republican Senator Marco Rubio told ABC television that the interview was "grotesque."

Rubio, who is seeking his party's presidential nomination, repeated his call for Guzman to be extradited.

Journalists questioned the ethical merits of the interview.

Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron tweeted a link to a December story about the dangers and death faced by Mexican journalists, commenting: "Good moment to remember what happens to real journalists who cover Mexican drug traffickers."

Rolling Stone posted a picture dated October 2 showing the Oscar-winning actor shaking hands with the mustachioed drug cartel leader.

Penn wrote that they had a seven-hour sit-down, followed by phone and video interviews.

"I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world," Guzman said over sips of tequila. "I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats."

The White House said Guzman's boast about his trafficking exploits "is maddening."

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