, MEXICO CITY, Jan 12 – Mexican authorities signaled Monday that extraditing Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States could take more than a year, while the slippery drug kingpin waits in the prison from which he previously escaped.
While the government seeks to ship Guzman across the border, a military tank sits outside the Altiplano prison west of the capital and a cell’s floors were reinforced with metal rods to prevent another tunnel.
The extradition bid comes as new details about Guzman’s surprise meeting with Sean Penn in October emerged, with a newspaper publishing pictures showing that the US actor was monitored by the authorities.
The effort to extradite him marks a reversal from President Enrique Pena Nieto’s refusal to send Guzman to the United States prior to his July escape from the maximum-security facility.
Authorities launched the process on Sunday – two days after his capture – based on petitions from courts in California and Texas on charges that include drug trafficking and homicide.
“The average (extradition) timeframe is one year but it could take up to five years,” Attorney General Arely Gomez told Radio Formula.
Guzman’s lawyer, Juan Pablo Badillo, has vowed to launch a “tough” legal battle that could reach the Supreme Court.
A judge granted Guzman a temporary injunction against extradition the day of his arrest and a court now has to rule on its validity.
Gomez vowed to fight any injunction and some experts say the government could try a “fast-track” extradition maneuver to speed up the process.
“They will try to extradite him as fast as possible,” Raul Benitez Manaut, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told AFP.
Previously arrested in February 2014, it took Guzman just 17 months to escape from the Altiplano penitentiary after his henchmen dug a 1.5-kilometer tunnel that led to a hole in his cell shower’s floor.
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 to avoid another escape.
“I think it’s safe to assume that they understand that the world is watching how this case moves forward and that this individual needs to stay behind bars,” said US State Department spokesman John Kirby.
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.