The Mexican government on Friday formally approved a U.S. request to transfer Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman to California and Texas for prosecution, opening the way for the infamous cartel leader’s extradition to the United States.
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had granted the U.S. extradition petition and had communicated its decision to Guzman, who is being held in a prison in the border city of Ciudad Juarez.
As part of the process, Mexico said, Washington presented “sufficient assurances” that Guzman would not be subject to the death penalty in the United States. Mexico has abolished capital punishment and regularly seeks pledges from U.S. officials that Mexican citizens extradited will not face execution.
The extradition approval, which was expected, is the latest step in what is widely expected to be a protracted effort to transfer the Sinaloa cartel leader to the United States.
“We plan to use all the legal avenues” to block extradition, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, one of Guzman’s lawyers, said Friday by telephone. “The defense [team] is tranquil, we are going to appeal the decision of the Mexican government.”
The initial phase of appeal is to seek what known in Mexican law as juicio de amparo, asking a judge to block the extradition. The defense has 30 days to file its appeal, the attorney said.
Friday’s decision grants approval to extradition petitions from federal prosecutors in San Diego and southern Texas.
In California, Guzman faces charges of conspiracy to import and possess cocaine for the purpose of distribution. In Texas, Guzman faces various charges including criminal conspiracy, crimes against public health, organized crime, firearms violations, murder and money laundering.
Federal prosecutors in several other jurisdictions, including Illinois and New York, have also filed charges against Guzman.
There was no immediate comment on Friday from Washington on Mexico’s decision to approve the extradition request.
Guzman has long been regarded as one of the world’s most powerful drug lords. He also has a reputation as a master prison break-out artist.
In January, Guzman was arrested almost six months after fleeing from a supposedly escape-proof maximum security prison outside Mexico City known as El Altiplano. He broke out through a mile-long tunnel that led to the floor of his prison shower.
Earlier this month, Guzman was suddenly transferred from El Altiplano to a prison in Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso. Officials described the move as a routine security precaution. Guzman is being held on 24-hour camera surveillance, officials say.
Guzman’s lawyers have sought to have him transferred back to the prison outside Mexico City, arguing that the site is closer to the court handling his case and more convenient for family visits. Mexican authorities have said Guzman will remain in the lockup in Ciudad Juarez for the time being.
Cecilia Sanchez of the Mexico City bureau contributed.
2:31 p.m.: This article was updated with additional background and comments from Guzman’s legal team.
12:16 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional information.
This article was originally posted at 12:04 p.m.