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Drug lord Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman extradited to US

News - Americas

New York indictment accuses notorious drug dealer of using hitmen to carry out murders, kidnappings, and torture.

Mexico's government extradited drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the United States where he is wanted on drug trafficking and other charges.

Guzman landed in New York late on Thursday to face federal narcotics trafficking and other charges.

A US law enforcement official told The Associated Press news agency that Guzman arrived following a flight from the Mexican border town Ciudad Juarez.

Guzman is expected to appear in a federal court in Brooklyn on Friday.

El Chapo - one of the world’s most notorious drug kingpins - twice escaped maximum-security prisons in Mexico, most recently in 2015 via a kilometre-long underground tunnel dug under the shower in his cell.

An indictment in New York accuses him of running a massive drug operation that employed thousands of people, laundered billions of dollars in profits back to Mexico, and used hitmen to carry out murders, kidnappings and acts of torture.

A defence lawyer said Guzman was extradited illegally and without notification. He called the transfer "totally political" on the part of the Mexican government.

It was while on the run for a second time, in the autumn of 2015, that he held a secret meeting with the actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo. The encounter was the subject of a lengthy article Penn published in Rolling Stone magazine last January, right after Mexican Marines re-arrested Guzman in the western state of Sinaloa.

In the interview, Guzman was unapologetic about his criminal activities, saying that he had turned to drug trafficking at 15 simply to survive. He is now in his late 50s.

"The only way to have money to buy food, to survive, is to grow poppy, marijuana, and at that age I began to grow it, to cultivate it and to sell it. That is what I can tell you," he was quoted as saying.

The 2015 escape was highly embarrassing for the government of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, and Mexican officials were seen as eager to hand the headache over to the US afterwards. A court denied Guzman's appeal and found his extradition was constitutional, the Mexican Department of Foreign Relations said.

Guzman's lawyers had fought extradition since his 2016 recapture and said on Thursday that the Mexican government sent him to the US to distract the public from nationwide protests over petrol prices.

"It was illegal. They didn't even notify us," lawyer Andres Granados said. "They handled it politically to obscure the situation of the gas price hike. It's totally political."

Besides New York, Guzman faces charges in five other US jurisdictions, including San Diego, Chicago and Miami. He could face the possibility of life in a US prison if convicted.

After his most recent escape, he became something of a folk legend for a segment of Mexico's population for his defiance of the authorities. He was immortalised in songs known as narco-corridos, ballads about the drug trade and drug bosses.

Derek Maltz, who headed the DEA's special operations division until his retirement in mid-2014, said the timing of Guzman's extradition less than 24 hours before Donald Trump's inauguration as US president could be seen as a show of good faith by Mexico.

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