WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It could take months or even years for American and Mexican authorities to work out details of extraditing captured Mexican drug cartel boss Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman to the United States, U.S. officials said on Monday.
First of all, the Mexican and U.S. governments will have to conduct delicate negotiations, involving the U.S. State Department and law enforcement agencies, over whether and how an extradition should proceed, the officials said.
Some Mexican government officials believe Guzman should first face charges in Mexico, where he was caught on Saturday. Neither the Mexican Attorney General's office nor the office of President Enrique Pena Nieto have commented on the extradition issue. On Monday, however, Guzman's Mexican lawyer filed court papers seeking to block any extradition after New York prosecutors said they would seek to have him sent there.
Guzman, 56, was previously sentenced in Mexico to nearly 21 years on drug trafficking and organized crime charges. He escaped prison in 2001, reportedly in a laundry cart, according to U.S. law enforcement sources, after serving about eight years.
Mexican authorities on Monday charged Guzman with drugs and arms trafficking, court and government sources said. He has not been charged with murder, the sources said, despite accusations that his Sinaloa cartel was behind thousands of killings.
Guzman is now languishing in the Altiplano prison in the State of Mexico, outside the capital. He gave a brief statement to a judge on Sunday, and is being kept in a cell alone in a maximum security area.
At least four U.S. prosecutors' offices, Brooklyn in New York, Chicago, Miami and El Paso, Texas, have outstanding indictments against Guzman and associates for crimes ranging from marijuana and cocaine trafficking to kidnapping and murder.
On Sunday, Robert Nardoza, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, told Reuters that the office was planning "to seek (Guzman's) extradition" to face cocaine distribution charges filed in 2009.
But a final decision on whether to request extradition will be made in Washington and it would be officials there who would prepare the formal paperwork to submit to Mexico.
On Monday, the Obama Administration appeared to distance itself from the federal prosecutor's office in New York. Peter Carr, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, said: "The decision whether to pursue extradition will be the subject of further discussion between the United States and Mexico."
The Obama Administration wants to avoid looking like it is putting pressure on Mexico to move quickly and is seeking to reinforce efforts by President Nieto to demonstrate his government is capable of effective action against major traffickers like Guzman and his Sinaloa cartel, U.S. officials said.
In the hours following the statement by prosecutors in Brooklyn, the Justice Department privately issued strong advisories to prosecutors around the country to avoid further public comments on the subject, officials said.
Authorities accuse Guzman's cartel of smuggling billions of dollars worth of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines into the United States and fighting vicious turf wars with other Mexican gangs.
Tens of thousands of people were killed in the fighting, especially in western and northern regions that have long been key smuggling routes.
Officials said that among the strongest U.S. cases pending against Guzman were those in Brooklyn and Chicago, where the most current indictment charging him and others with trafficking in cocaine and heroin was issued in 2012.