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Extradition Of 'El Chapo' Could Take Years, So Why Does The U.S. Want Him?


The drug lord known as El Chapo has been captured before. When Joaquin Guzman was brought into custody on Friday, it was for the third time after two prior escapes. This time, things could go very differently because the U.S. is trying to bring him here to stand trial. We're learning today that is a process that could take years. Joining us now is NPR's Carrie Kahn from Mexico City and NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson here in the studio. Welcome to both of you.



SHAPIRO: Carrie Kahn, let's start with you. There was talk of extradition during El Chapo's last arrest. This time, Mexico is not resisting. Why not?

KAHN: It is quite a turnaround for the Mexican government, that's for sure. On a practical basis, look. The man escaped from prison twice here, three time's the charm, so I think there's a fear of him escaping again. Clearly the Mexicans can capture criminals, but the institutions here are very weak to keep and prosecute them. Secondly, there's been a big political change in the attorney general's office here. The old attorney general, he was the one who refused to extradite Chapo, and he's gone. And there is now an improved relationship between Mexico's new attorney general and the U.S., and extraditions in the past few months have picked up again to near levels with the past administrations.

SHAPIRO: Well, what are the next steps in Mexico? What's going to happen in the next few days?

KAHN: We heard yesterday officers with Interpol presented Guzman with two U.S. arrest warrants, one from California and the other from Texas. And the attorney general's office here says the formal process is now underway. On a local radio program today, the head of the extradition office in Mexico said that at a minimum, it would take a year to extradite Guzman. And probably, once his lawyers are finished with all their appeals, it could be four to maybe six years.

SHAPIRO: Well, stay with us, Carrie Kahn. In the studio here, Carrie Johnson. Why are U.S. officials interested in El Chapo?

JOHNSON: El Chapo's been indicted, Ari, in more than half a dozen U.S. jurisdictions. U.S. attorneys' offices eventually are going to be vying for who gets to prosecute him. The early read is Chicago, whose crime commission has declared El Chapo public enemy number one, a designation it had previously reserved for Al Capone. Chicago wants him desperately, as does Brooklyn. And Brooklyn may have an inside track if this happens quickly because of course, the U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch, used to lead the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn. But I'm being told by senior Justice Department Officials there's no process now yet for figuring that out. And if the extradition takes a long time, that process could happen later rather than sooner.

SHAPIRO: Well, Carrie Kahn in Mexico, what is the reaction where you are? On the one hand, El Chapo is known for his brutality. On the other hand, he's this kind of mythic figure. What are you hearing from people you're talking to?

KAHN: Well, we went out on the street today to talk to people and it's mixed reactions. Some really want him sent to the U.S. immediately so he doesn't escape again, and others are really dismayed that Mexico can't try and sentence its own criminals. And we've heard that a lot from opposition lawmakers who are saying that, too, and discussing ways to block the extradition. Chapo himself has a very mixed reputation here. He's known for his charity some in his home state in Sinaloa. But there's no doubt that this man is a ruthless, dangerous trafficker who caused so much of the violence and death in this country, and many people want him to pay for the destructions he's caused here.

SHAPIRO: I'd like you each to talk briefly about what we've learned about how he was picked up. First, Carrie Kahn in Mexico?

KAHN: Well, there's a lot of talk about the role of actor Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo. There are several new sources in Mexico and Associated Press in the U.S. that quote unnamed officials in the attorney general's office saying that was the connection that led to his whereabouts in the mountains in Mexico. The attorney general herself here said in a press conference that investigators were able to establish his whereabouts after he escaped from prison through contact with actors and producers intent on making a film about his life. And after Penn and del Castillo met with Guzman in that mountain hideout, Mexican Marines raided it. Chapo was able to escape that time, but he was later captured last Friday.

SHAPIRO: Well, Carrie Kahn, you're talking about the Mexican attorney general's office. Carrie Johnson, what about the American attorney general's office? What are you hearing from U.S. sources?

JOHNSON: U.S. sources are not speaking on the record because this is a sensitive, ongoing and international matter, Ari. But from what I've been able to glean from U.S. law enforcement officials, they're a little bit wary of the notion that Sean Penn unwittingly led investigators to El Chapo and his whereabouts. They're also throwing a bucket of cold water on the notion that Sean Penn or anybody in the entertainment industry could be prosecuted in the United States for helping El Chapo in any way, shape or form.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson and NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thanks to both of you.

KAHN: You're welcome.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.