Mexican Judges Rule 'El Chapo' Will Stand Trial In Mexico First

The arrest of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman is a coup for Mexican authorities. Now comes the tussle over where he will be tried. He's wanted in at least seven U.S. federal districts.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In the world of illegal drugs, no one casts a larger shadow than Joakim El Chapo Guzman, leader of Mexico's multibillion dollar Sinaloa drug cartel. Guzman now sits in a maximum security prison outside Mexico City. Mexican forces arrested him last weekend with the help of U.S. law enforcement agencies. Prosecutors in the U.S. badly want Guzman in an American courtroom, but yesterday two Mexican judges ruled Guzman will stand trial in Mexico.

We are joined now by NPR's Carrie Kahn from Mexico City. Good morning.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Yesterday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called his Mexican counterpart to congratulate him on Guzman's arrest. Did the subject of extraditing Guzman to the U.S. come up? I mean can there be other trials in the U.S.?

KAHN: It definitely did come up, and this is all according to the Mexican attorney general who was speaking on local radio yesterday. He said Eric Holder brought up the subject, but the Mexican attorney general made it very clear it's far too soon to talk about extradition. Other Mexican officials have been very public about saying they want Guzman to face all local charges here first.

The investigators really want the first crack at interrogating the head of the Sinaloa cartel. And you know, interestingly, I was just in Guzman's home state of Sinaloa and I asked the state's governor and the top prosecutor if they wanted to get in this whole fight for who will prosecute Guzman, and it was a little stunning. They both said he faces no charges in this state.

And this is the state that was the center of his operations. I questioned them further and they just said they only prosecute common crimes, but he's not even wanted in the state for robbery, nothing.

MONTAGNE: What exactly are the charges facing Guzman?

KAHN: Yesterday the two federal judges ruled here that he will face trial on a host of drug trafficking and organized crime charges. There could be as many as six other possible criminal cases he'd be facing, so all these have to be resolved before any U.S. extradition request is considered.

MONTAGNE: One thing about Joakim Guzman, he has this incredible story. He's been in a Mexican prison before. He escaped. He spent the last 13 years on the loose, allegedly running his drug empire. What about his prison this time? What do we know about it? Can he escape?

KAHN: Well, he's now in Mexico's highest security prison. It's outside of Mexico City. This is not the same one he escaped from 13 years ago, probably with the help of very corrupt officials when he slipped out of the prison in a laundry bin. But you know, that was 13 years ago and Mexican prisons are much different, especially the maximum security one he's in now.

But you know, more importantly than all this talk about the prison walls and the guards and locks and everything, it's really is Mexico's judicial system up to the task of not only building a case against him but actually getting a conviction and a long sentence?

MONTAGNE: Well, you just spoke of how he was able to escape, Guzman, presumably with the help of some authorities. There's a lot of talk about he couldn't have spent all that time on the run without help from Mexico's police and other officials. So what are people in Mexico saying about that?

KAHN: Guzman was well known to have had many local police on his payroll, but just how high that alleged ties between the cartels and government officials with the Sinaloa cartel, we don't know. And there's a lot of talk now that one reason Mexico may not want to send Guzman to the U.S. is that he knows where all the bodies are buried and he would talk about high level corruption between the cartel and government officials.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Carrie Kahn speaking to us from Mexico City. Thanks very much.

KAHN: Thanks, Renee.

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