Mexico judge to weigh 'Chapo' US extradition this month

Mexico City (AFP) - A Mexican judge will weigh the extradition of drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman this month, and he could be in US custody later this year, a US official said Wednesday.

The US government official told AFP that the judge in Mexico City is expected to rule on the extradition on September 26, but Guzman could appeal the decision.

His lawyers say the process could take months or years to conclude, but the US official expects the extradition of the Sinaloa drug cartel leader to move much faster.

"We are still on track for him to be extradited before the end of the year," the official said on condition of anonymity to be able to speak freely about the case.

Mexico's foreign ministry gave the green light to Guzman's extradition in May, but the notorious Sinaloa drug cartel leader obtained an injunction in June.

If the judge rejects Guzman's legal petition, his lawyers would have 10 days to appeal to a higher court.

One of Guzman's lawyers, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, said the lower court judge could issue his ruling on September 26 but that "usually" such decisions can take a few days or even weeks.

In any case, Rodriguez said his client instructed him to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

The US official, however, said the Supreme Court could simply refuse to take the case, paving the way for his extradition.

- Guzman 'not well' -

The powerful drug lord was arrested in January, six months after he brazenly escaped prison in a 1.5-kilometer (one-mile) tunnel, humiliating President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration.

Pena Nieto had opposed Guzman's extradition before his July 15 escape, preferring to prosecute the slippery prisoner in Mexico.

But the president called on the attorney general to expedite the extradition after Guzman's January arrest.

His extradition would set up a major US trial against a man whose cartel is accused of generating much of the violence in Mexico and providing tons of drugs to the United States.

The foreign ministry accepted in May two US extradition requests. He faces cocaine smuggling charges in California and multiple accusations, including murder, in Texas.

Guzman was transferred in May from a maximum-security prison near Mexico City to a penitentiary in Ciudad Juarez, which lies at the border with the United States.

"He's not doing well. He's isolated, he doesn't go out with other inmates in the prison yard, they don't let him speak with anybody," his other lawyer, Andres Granados, told Radio Formula.

- Kidnapped son released -

Guzman's family faced a setback during his incarceration.

One of his sons, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 29, was kidnapped along with five other men in a restaurant in the Pacific resort of Puerto Vallarta on August 15.

Guzman and the other men were released five days later following a negotiation, a Guzman family member said.

Authorities believe that the son, who is suspected of working for his father's gang, was abducted by the rival Jalisco New Generation drug cartel.

The US government official said US authorities believe Jesus Alfredo Guzman was released, but the reasons for the abduction were unclear.

"If you're going to kidnap someone like that, either you kill him so you can take over territory" or negotiate a deal, the official said.

"There's no evidence that anything in particular was exchanged," the source said. "It seems to indicate it wasn't very planned, they weren't certain what the objective was, and they reconsidered after holding him for a while."