- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2016

The extradition of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States has received initial approval from a Mexican federal judge, The Associated Press reported Monday, kicking off what could still be a lengthy process to transfer the cartel leader into American custody.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department has 20 days to decide whether to approve the extradition and the cartel leader’s attorneys have said they will continue to work to block his transfer to the U.S.

Neither the U.S. Department of Justice nor the U.S. Marshals would comment Monday on the reports of the extradition approval.

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Authorities have faced pressure to extradite Guzman to the United States to face charges ever since his escape from a Mexican prison last year.

Guzman was able to escape from Mexico’s highest-security prison in July through a sophisticated, mile-long tunnel that connected to the shower in his cell. It was his second such escape. In 2001, he broke out of another prison and spent more than a decade on the run before his recapture in 2014.

His escape through a professionally excavated tunnel did not come as a complete surprise to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents. Guzman is a regarded as folk hero with a vast support network and enormous wealth to buy off prison guards and other local officials, and his Sinaloa Cartel is infamous for using sophisticated drug-running tunnels under the U.S. border.

While Guzman’s rearrest in January was newsworthy in its own right, an article published about him in Rolling Stone on the day of his arrest prompted additional interest in how authorities tracked him down.

The author of the article, actor Sean Penn, had visited the Sinaloa drug lord while he was in hiding and had to bat away rumors that he had been working with the government to help locate the runaway drug lord.

Over the weekend, Guzman was transferred to a prison in Ciudad Juarez, closer to the U.S. border, prompting speculation that his extradition was imminent.

It remains unclear how soon he could be brought to the United States.

Guzman is facing criminal indictments in seven U.S. jurisdictions — the Southern District of California, the Northern District of Illinois, the Eastern District of New York, the Western District of Texas based in El Paso, the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, the U.S. District of New Hampshire and the Southern District of Florida in Miami.

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