Judge rules fugitive Mexico kingpin to be sent to US

A poster with the face of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman at a news stand in a Mexico City bus terminal on July 13, 2015 (AFP Photo/Yuri Cortez) (AFP/File)

Mexico City (AFP) - A Mexican judge has issued an order to extradite fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the United States -- if he is recaptured after his jailbreak, authorities said Thursday.

The federal judge in Mexico City accepted a petition made by the attorney general's office on Wednesday, almost three weeks after Guzman broke out of a maximum-security prison by slipping down a tunnel on July 11.

Attorney General Arely Gomez said earlier this month that the US government had formally requested Guzman's extradition on June 25, some two weeks before his escape, and that prosecutors had been analyzing the petition.

Jose Alberto Rodriguez, a deputy prosecutor, told Milenio television that the US paperwork was "complete" this time. Media reports said the previous request was incomplete.

Her predecessor, Jesus Murillo Karam, had insisted following Guzman's February 2014 capture that the Sinaloa drug cartel honcho had to face Mexican justice before any extradition could be considered.

President Enrique Pena Nieto's decision to try Guzman in Mexico instead of immediately extraditing him to the United States last year has come under scrutiny since his latest escape.

Guzman had already fooled the authorities in 2001 when he busted out of another maximum-security penitentiary.

The extradition hearings, which can be appealed by defense attorneys, can last up to one year and a judge would have to decide whether to send Guzman to the United States, an official in the attorney general's office told AFP.

According to Mexican law, a convict can be extradited once the accused has completed a sentence in Mexico. But the president can issue an executive order to extradite the suspect before facing domestic justice, the official said.

Jack Riley, the US Drug Enforcement Administration's deputy chief, told AFP on Wednesday that his agency would "certainly" want Guzman's extradition if he is recaptured, but that he understood why Mexico wanted to try him first.

While Riley said he was optimistic that Guzman would be found again, the top law enforcement official said the manhunt would be a "marathon."

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